Yes, Chicken Little…..
This time, the sky really is falling
Shutdown 2013 is really not a budget negotiation.
IT IS NOT. You do not pass and repeal laws in the United States of America through budget negotiations.
Then what is this, really? What are the buffoons and shucksters in Congress at a stalemate over? Well, this time, it’s about nothing short of our democratic system of self-governance, which hangs in the balance: that would be Majority Rule by the people, through their elected representatives, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and borne out in our Constitution. The terms being thrown around – “economic terrorist”, “hostage-taking”, “anarchists” – are not just partisan hyperbole or meaningless name-calling; they are dictionary-style, spot-on-accurate accountings of what is happening now. The New York Times’ Tom Friedman said this, in a much more concise and serious way this week, in his column called, quite literally, “Our Democracy Is At Stake”. Read it here.
We are not talking about compromise or negotiation of budget priorities, or public policies, or, even the legitimate repeal of or amendment to any particular law (i.e., The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “ACA”). This has nothing to do with “Obamacare”. We are simply – and only – talking about one small segment of one party in one branch of our government (as you may have heard) wanting to “negotiate” the terms of a ransom. A ransom, mind you, that has already been paid in the form of the Sequester (as irony would have it, if you click on this White House link for the Sequester…..well, just click on it).
Remember the Sequester? That dire, mutually destructive occurrence that both parties were going to do anything to avoid? It hasn’t gone anywhere. It is the budget appropriation we are and have been for months now living with and it is what the President and the Democrats are prepared to accept yet again, without compromise or further negotiation, in what they are calling a “clean CR” (continuing resolution) just to keep the lights on and the government open for 6 weeks so that the House and the Senate can actually meet in conference and try to hammer out the differences in the budgets passed by each house earlier this year.
I’ve seen and heard some truly toenail-curling scary crap this week in the wake of the shutdown, stuff you can’t imagine that people you know – in fact, people you know and really kinda sorta like – actually believe. So let’s do this. Let’s get to the basic mechanics of it all: fundamental civics. Maybe some will be ballsy enough to let it in and pass it on. Here we go.
Think of the government budget as a big pie. Are you thinking of a pie? No, not Jason Biggs. A pie. Focus.
So we have the pie that represents the budget. And well over 90% of that pie is already spoken for – in the form of “non-discretionary”, already-funded programs – like Social Security, Medicare, Defense, etc. That big hunk of the pie is where the Affordable Care Act lives. The ACA was a bill – now a law – voted on by a majority of both houses of Congress, signed by the President and upheld as Constitutional by John Roberts’ Supreme Court. The very essence of “checks and balances”. Here, watch the old Schoolhouse Rock video on our system and how a bill becomes a law. Go on, you know you want to.
So now that we know what the largest chunk of the pie in our budget is, let’s talk about the rest. The small slice of the pie left over is the so-called “discretionary” spending that Democrats and Republicans fight over every single year. Almost without fail, this sliver of pie usually does represent the policy priorities of the governing majority – usually. Not so much anymore. The bunch currently in office could not iron out that discretionary spending, so they created, and then triggered – at the Tea Party’s behest – the Sequester, where 10% across-the-board cuts to the military (typically the sacred cow of the GOP) and social programs (read: shit Democrats care about) went into effect until . . . the continuing resolution (or, CR) that funded the Sequester ran out, which was just this Tuesday, which culminated in the shutdown. What needed to happen was that Congress had to either pass yet another CR (along the same Sequester lines), or, sit down with their big kid panties on and agree upon an actual going-forward budget so as to operate the government for the next fiscal year.
And, here’s the rub. Having succeeded beyond their wildest dreams by obtaining the ransom demanded last time around (Sequester) – and like the bully who steals your lunch money one day, has you writing his term paper the next and eventually sitting in for him during his SAT’s – the House Republicans, taking cues from their demigod Ted (I-was-born-in-Canada) Cruz, well, they now want more. So this time, they attached conditions – specifically, the repeal, or, “defunding” (same thing) of the Affordable Care Act – to the Continuing Resolution. And here we are, with the Kamikaze Caucus crying like toddlers, in fact holding their collective breaths and turning purple, like four-year-olds not getting their way, because so far (I stress, so far), at least the President and the Democrats in Congress will not negotiate the terms of this ransom. This particular group of anarchists seem to have forgotten that the checks and balances do not lie solely with a small percentage of one party of the House of Representatives.
So, as much as House Republicans would like you to believe that their cause is legit, that this is about “Obamacare”, the ACA, I reiterate, is just noise; a side-show. And this shutdown isn’t even the real deal. It is, rather, a preamble to the debt ceiling fight to come. They’re not really fooling anyone but their constituents who, baffling as it all seems, continue to vote for them (Redistricting. Yay!). I mean, if this is all we’ve got to do to get rid of a law we don’t like, why didn’t the Democrats just de-fund all of the Bush-era crap they didn’t like once they had control of the House and Senate during President Obama’s first term? Hey, I think it’s safe to say they weren’t particularly fond of SCOTUS….why not just de-fund them? De-fund the Supreme Court, shutter their doors and wait until we get a Nine we can work with? Because this is not how we run our government!
Here’s one final thing, going back to the Majority Rule issue, which is really the crux of it all. A majority of Americans (this means majority, more than the other guy, as in – enough to win) voted for President Obama. Twice. And in doing so, they endorsed what he was selling – chiefly, the ACA. So the question is: when do those votes and their intent count? You don’t like a law or rule? For sure, there are RULES and mechanisms in place for changing or repealing them. And you can even try 46 times. And then again. And again.
This is real life and real people are getting screwed. Because why? Because Ted Cruz is ambitious. And a fringe in the House has us living in the tyranny of the minority.
Finally, separate and apart from this discussion, can I ask a question? What is so inherently terrible about providing healthcare to people? People who otherwise could not get coverage. The poor. The pre-existings. The twenty somethings dropped from their parents’ policies. The chronically ill who hit lifetime caps. It’s not really rhetorical. I would actually like to know, but if you’re going to regurgitate pablum about the government forcing you to purchase something, don’t bother. To those, I say, (a) see, Supreme Court ruling on the ACA; and (b) compare the purchase of healthcare (and subsequent/eventual fine for not purchasing) to auto insurance. You are required to have car insurance – this is for the safety of and to the benefit of you and those you share the road with. If you don’t have auto insurance, there are consequences. Hopefully this parallel makes sense.
Up is down. Right is left. Blue is black. Stop means go. Strange times we are living in, friends.
Don’t look down.