The Republican led House of Representatives will convene this afternoon and most certainly drive the government into a shutdown over an impasse that is rooted in the partisan politics of health care. By making the delay of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” a condition on continuing to fund the government, the GOP is risking the suspension of vital programs and government services that will affect millions of Americans, including children and the elderly. The terms of the House Republican Caucus were rejected outright by Senate Democrats over the weekend, setting up today’s showdown on Capitol Hill.
The Republican Party has been dragged into this confrontation by Senator Ted Cruz, who held the Senate floor for a 21 hour filibuster to wail against the new health care law, and lawmakers aligned with the Tea Party, as well as the capitulation of House Speaker John Boehner to the right-wing of the GOP. The antics of Cruz and other right-leaning lawmakers have drawn the criticism of Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, and revealed a fissure within the ranks of the party. The degree to which the GOP is being held captive by partisan politics is evident in their spending proposal. The House spending bill included a provision allowing employers to opt out of covering women’s preventive care and proposes to repeal a tax on medical devices. Eliminating the tax would put at risk the Affordable Care Act’s ability to cover the coverage of low-income people under the new law. In reality, the actions of the House Republican Caucus are designed to permanently kill Obamacare.
The GOP’s actions come at the same time the nation is scheduled to start open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, with October 1 as the beginning of the enrollment period. Republicans are playing a high stakes game of partisan gamesmanship, holding the continued funding of the government hostage while attempting to settle a political score over a law that has been in place for three years and survived court challenges. Now with time running out to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government, Republicans are using the impasse as an opportunity to subvert the health care law. Since 1977 there have been 17 government shutdowns but this episode reeks as one of the low-points of modern U.S. political history. The inability to come to agreement on a spending bill is a reflection of how partisan lines have hardened on Capitol Hill as lawmakers are unable to pass a budget and then the necessary appropriations bills. That process worked for many years until Congress became polarized by ideological differences and the politics of the historic 2008 election carried over into the legislative process.
The stalemate also represents a very stark reminder of the underlying racial animus that exists within the Tea Party movement toward President Obama, and the extent to which the conservative bloc of the Republican Party will go to undermine the nation’s first African-American President. Since he was elected in 2008 President Obama has been in the crosshairs of the right; facing outlandish accusations from conservatives challenging his citizenship, fear mongering by claiming he is a closet Muslim and whipping the gun lobby into frenzy by suggesting he wants to seize legally obtained firearms.
The Senate is expected to reject the House Republican’s proposal this afternoon, setting up for a final showdown on the House floor. The White House is showing no signs of caving in to the demand of congressional Republicans to delay the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act. Once a shutdown goes into effect, there will be immediate and delayed consequences. Some of the most immediate effects will be the shutdown of federal offices (excluding the Postal Service), national parks and museums, the National Archives and all presidential museums except those operated by private foundations. If a shutdown were to last for any duration past a week payments to federal contractors, government employees and military personnel would likely be affected. The financial markets will likely also react negativey to a government shutdown, further impeding the nation's fragile economic recovery.