Not surprisingly, I am seeing a number of people, on Facebook and other message boards, offering the opinion that the current federal government shutdown is equally the fault of Republicans and Democrats. I am sure it seems like a reasonable thing to say, and it provides the effect of making the person who says it look moderate and evenhanded.
There is only one problem: it just isn’t true.
I am sure there is very little need for me to pause here and note, in the interest of fairness, that I am a Democrat. Most people who know me understand that I generally support what the Democratic Party supports, and I generally oppose what the Republican Party supports. I am not going to take the time here to get into all the reasons for my support of a liberal political philosophy, which is another discussion for another time. But to be fair, I feel it important to note up front that I do have a very strong political bias, so that those of you reading this post can make your own judgment as to my objectivity.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I am going to do my absolute best to present the facts of the case, and I am going to try to leave my own personal bias out of it as much as I can.
The Republicans, as you probably know, have a majority of seats in the United States House of Representatives, while the Democrats control a majority of the United States Senate and the presidency. We have come up to a couple of deadlines.
One deadline, which passed October 1st, was the deadline for Congress to pass a law that would continue funding the federal government. The failure of Congress to do so, due to the inability of the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate to agree on passing the same bill, is why most federal functions have shut down at this time.
Another deadline, which is approaching on October 17, is the date by which Congress must raise the nation’s debt ceiling. I’m going to take a moment here to explain what that means. The debt ceiling has to be raised to pay for the bills our country already owes. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the country will have to begin defaulting on the bills it has already incurred but has not yet paid. That is expected, by most financial experts, to have extremely negative effects on the financial markets and very possibly create another economic recession or depression.
To go back to the first deadline, which passed days ago, the reason why the House and Senate failed to agree was because the Republicans who control the House refused to pass any bill that did not defund or delay the new health care law, passed in 2010, which the Republicans began calling “Obamacare.” That bill, of course, passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama, at a time when Democrats had very large majorities in both the House and the Senate. The law passed with the support of no Republicans in either the House or Senate.
Republicans have strongly opposed the health care law from the beginning and have continued to try to find ways to end it, especially after the 2010 Congressional elections gave them control of the House and more members of the Senate (though Democrats maintained a majority). The Republicans in Congress are now attempting to force the Democrats to go along with either ending “Obamacare” (by taking away its funding) or delaying it, in exchange for Republican consent to continue funding the federal government and pay its bills.
What I have presented, to this point, is strictly factual. Here, I am going to begin to offer my opinion as to why the Republican position is unreasonable and why it is incorrect to blame the Democrats for “refusing to negotiate.”
First of all, I consider the Republican position unreasonable because the Republicans are offering the Democrats only one choice, which they know the Democrats cannot accept: either destroy or delay the program they worked very hard for many years to get. The Republicans are offering no other alternatives. They are demanding that Democrats give them 100 percent of what they want, or they will shut down the government and possibly default on the nation’s debts, with potential catastrophic effects for the economy of the country and the world. This is not a good-faith attempt to negotiate; it is blackmail.
Secondly, I consider the Republican position unreasonable because the Republicans are trying to block the health care program before the government has even had a chance to implement it and see if it works or not. Even though the program was enacted in 2010, it has taken time to get it ready, and it won’t be fully functional until 2015. Naturally, Democrats think “Obamacare” is a good idea, or they wouldn’t have enacted it, and Republicans think it is a bad idea. However, there isn’t a single person alive who can tell us, with any certainty, how it is going to work out. Anybody who says he can tell you that it will succeed or fail is either 1) just guessing or 2) lying. Most people would say that it is perfectly reasonable to get rid of the program if it fails. What is not reasonable, in my opinion, is to keep the program from ever being tried out, and that is what Republicans are attempting to do, by trying to force Democrats to defund it or delay it. To defund it would keep it from getting started at all. To delay it for a year inevitably would lead to another Republican demand, a year from now, to delay it again, and another, and another, until such time as a Republican president and Congress are elected and can overturn it. The Republican object is, clearly, to keep it from ever getting off the ground. I do not think this is a reasonable position.
Third, the implementation of “Obamacare” has nothing at all to do with funding government operations or raising the debt ceiling. Changing the health care program is not required to do either of these things. Republicans are simply holding the country’s fiscal health hostage in order to gain leverage to destroy a program they oppose, before anyone knows whether that program will be good for the country or not.
If Republicans were offering ideas to help improve the health care program, I would consider this a more reasonable approach. But they are only offering a demand to stop it, which I do not consider reasonable.
In short, the Republican Party is the party that is making what I consider unreasonable demands, and I do not think the Democrats are at fault for refusing to give into unreasonable demands. To do so would only encourage more unreasonable demands in the future.
It should also be noted that Democrats are attaching no demands to their own legislation that would fund the government, and in fact have already compromised on many of the things they would like to do. The bill the Democratic-controlled Senate passed already had much lower levels of government funding than the Democrats wanted.
And in fact, it is also true that the health care law Democrats enacted in 2010 was much less than what Democrats wanted, or the president campaigned on. The law did not include a “public option,” which would have created a government-based health insurance option to compete with private carriers; Democrats left this out as a concession to conservatives, even though it was a centerpiece of President Obama’s 2008 campaign and very popular with the people who voted for him. The president took a lot of political heat from his own base by leaving the public option out of the final proposal. So to claim that Democrats are being stubborn about government funding or health care is to ignore the fact that they have already made substantial concessions. It is the Republicans who are not making any concessions.
So when people claim that the Democrats are equally at fault, I believe the facts of the case prove that this is simply not true. The Democrats have made many concessions. It is time now for the Republicans to back away from their unreasonable demands and allow the government to be properly funded.