Several polls have indicated the public’s growing disapproval of congressional Republicans over the shutdown of the federal government while showing President Obama gaining the public’s confidence during this crisis. As the shutdown approaches two-weeks, and showing no signs of ending, the President took to the airwaves yesterday to detail his position and make clear to the House Republican leadership his resolve not to capitulate to their demands.
President Obama held an afternoon press briefing (see the full video on the NorthStarNews.com home page) at the White House and again reiterated that he would not negotiate a deal to fund the government under threat. Republicans in Congress set the delay of the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare,” the landmark health care law, as a condition to support a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government past October 1. With the normal budget process falling prey to the poisonous partisan political environment in the nation’s capital, a CR is necessary to provide for the continued funding of the federal government. Congressional Republicans who have attempted to derail the health care law since its passing are using the budget process to try to achieve the GOP’s political agenda and were stymied when President Obama held his ground, shutting down the government. As of midnight on October 1 federal installations, offices and properties have been shut down across the country. The shutdown has affected key agencies such as the Department of Labor that was unable to issue the monthly employment report for September and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and closed national parks and monuments.
In perhaps the strongest language he has used since the stalemate began, President Obama said he was willing to negotiate with House Republicans but would not allow the GOP to hold the deal up for what essentially is “ransom,” the condition that the Affordable Care Act be delayed before Republicans agree to a deal. The President indicated he had reached out to Speaker Boehner and expressed his willingness to talk about issues of concern to the Republicans “but I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations, shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.” The Speaker has been insistent upon the Republican position that the President agree to their terms on the Affordable Care Act before negotiating an end to the shutdown.
With most of the nation’s major daily newspapers publishing editorials in support of the President, he is clearly winning the public debate over the shutdown while House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is becoming increasingly isolated at the extreme right fringe of the nation’s politics with the Tea Party movement. The Speaker has also lost the support of some of the members of his Caucus and would likely lose a vote to end the shutdown if he called for one. Democrats and some Republicans on the Hill have called for a vote on a “clean” Continuing Resolution, meaning one with no strings attached, that would fund the government and end the shutdown while negotiations continue between the White House and Congress over the budget. President Obama has called on the Speaker to bring a Continuing Resolution for a vote as several sources, including the White House, indicate there are sufficient Republican votes that combined with a united Democratic Caucus can pass a resolution to end the shutdown. Complicating the impasse is the looming deadline on October 17 to increase the federal debt ceiling which allows for the government to meet all of its financial obligations, including those to foreign governments. Some economists have warned of the dire consequences of the United States failing to meet its obligations for what it could mean to global perceptions of the nation’s stability and many in the business community are also expressing grave concerns over the impact on the economy. Many Republicans, however, are dismissing such warnings and have expressed little concern over the impact of the shutdown or a failure to raise the debt limit.
Feeling the impact of the shutdown most immediately are federal workers deemed “non-essential” and the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, the poor and disabled, including military veterans that rely on support from the federal government. Reflecting how some Americans are being impacted members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) took to the floor of the House on October X to voice their concern and anger over the shutdown. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) sounded exasperated speaking in front of a large sign that read #EnoughAlready. The freshman congressman said, “The House majority has placed children in jeopardy, tens of thousands shutout of the Head Start program, the House majority has placed seniors in jeopardy, unable to benefit from the Meals on Wheels program that is partially funded by the federal government” as he decried “there is no more dysfunctional place in this country than the House of Representatives under the current majority.” Rep. Jeffries was joined by several members of the CBC in taking aim at the tactics of the Republican majority. His colleague from California, Rep. Barbara Lee, declared, “The Tea Party extremists are really achieving their goal of dismantling government. Their shutdown is step one. It’s no secret that the Tea Party Republicans came here not as public servants but to destroy ad decimate our government.” Rep. Lee’s remarks reflect a growing frustration over the House Speaker’s capitulation to the agenda of a far-right minority faction of the GOP and the ability of the Tea Party to dictate the strategy of the House Republicans.
The fight over the government shutdown is putting on full display the divisiveness of American politics and the degree to which the partisan divide in Washington DC has threated the functioning of the federal government. This is not the first time the federal government has been shut down; however, the current partisan gulf is such that coming to the negotiating table under present conditions is a tall order. Unless moderates in the Republican Party, or Republicans with standing outside the government, call on the Speaker to end the shutdown first and then negotiate, the current stalemate could last for some time.