At 12:00 am on the first day of October 2013, the United States federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years. The United States Congress could not come to an agreement over a spending bill that was proposed by the House Republicans four times and rejected by the Senate Democrats four times.
As a result of this stalemate, 800,000 of two million federal workers will be furloughed, meaning they will have to take a mandatory, unpaid leave. Thousands of employees from government agencies, such as the Department of Commerce, Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency, have had their jobs momentarily taken away. Not only that, but the American economy stands to lose one billion dollars for every week the stalemate continues.
This is all because of a disagreement over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. The House proposal that was ultimately rejected by the Senate focused primarily on delaying the funding of the ACA for a year and ending federally provided health care for the president, members of Congress and their staff. The ACA was approved by Congress in 2010, signed by President Obama into law, and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. It is the law of the land, yet Tea Party conservatives in the House refuse to let the issue go.
Since gaining control of the House in 2011, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has presided over 40 separate votes in attempts by House Republicans to repeal parts, if not all, of the ACA. The New York Times recently estimated that the House has spent 15 percent of their time on the floor focusing on repealing the healthcare law, which amounts to over $17 million of Republican members’ salaries since 2011, based on numbers from the Congressional Research Service.
Congress is now in the middle of a childish and dangerous blame game, where each side of the aisle is up in arms over whose fault this shutdown is. Both sides are to blame, as the House Republicans refuse to compromise over any spending proposal that does not delay ACA funding, and the Senate Democrats refuse to negotiate over any spending bill that attacks the ACA.
This is partisan politics at its best—or worst—nature. House Republicans, driven by the extreme right-wing Tea Party coalition, have set their eyes on sending a message over a once polarizing issue that the public has now come to accept. Throughout these budget negotiations, 26 percent of Americans approve of how Congressional Republicans have handled the negotiations, 34 percent approve of how Congressional Democrats have handled the negotiations, and 41 percent approve of how Obama has handled the situation.
The Republican Party has consistently blamed the Obama administration and Democrats for costing the economy jobs during the fragile recovery from the 2008 recession. They say that reckless spending is not a way to get America working again and that further economic stimulus will hurt our economy as it deepens our federal debt. But when the time comes to make a deal to save the jobs of federal employees and keep the economy moving, the House Republicans refuse to cooperate, obsessing over a bill that was passed 3 years ago.
When it comes down to it, this is not just a shutdown, but also a showdown; a showdown between Republicans and Democrats over a single polarizing issue. The government shutdown has prevented 15 percent of uninsured Americans from receiving the benefits of the ACA. It will be interesting to see what additional consequences arise for the Republican and Democratic parties as the showdown—I mean shutdown—continues.