Lack of agreement in Congress on conditions for funding the government has resulted in the government shutdown, furloughing 800,000 government workers without pay and shutting down all “no essentials” government services. If this goes on for longer than a week or two, there is a potential for lasting impacts to the nation’s economy. More importantly the same issues which are responsible for the shutdown are very likely to come in to play when Congress tackles the decision as to whether or not to raise the debt ceiling which will enable the country to continue to pay the bills it has already incurred. In the view of all of the experts, defaulting on our debt obligations for the first time in our nation’s history would not only have devastating consequences for our country’s economy, but it could also trigger a world wide economic meltdown.
To understand how we got to this point, let’s review recent history. Before Barack Obama was elected President in November of 2008, in the 110th Congress (2007-2009) a Democratic majority ruled in the House of Representatives – 232 to 205, while the Senate had 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans along with 2 independents who caucused with the Democrats. On the coat tails of the Obama victory, the Democrats took firm control of both houses of the 111th Congress (2009-2011) by a margin of 257 to 178 in the House and 57 to 41 in the Senate, again with 2 independents caucusing with the Democrats. So when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (now better known as Obamacare) was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President in March of 2010, the Democrats had total control of the two branches of the government necessary which can pass and enact legislation without a veto.
Moving on to 2011, the Republicans took control of the house during the 112 Congress (2011-2013) 242-192, but failed to take over the Senate which stayed under Democratic control 51-47-2. Obama was of course still President. Then when Obama beat Romney, in the 113th Congress (2013- ) the Democrats increased their majority in the Senate 52-45, again with the 2 independents caucusing with the Democrats. The Republicans managed to hold on to the House, but lost ground, 234-201.
Then in January of 2012, with Republicans depending on the Supreme Court to rule Obamacare unconstitutional, it simply didn’t happen. Justice broke with his conservative to vote with the majority to rule the legislation constitutional
In summary, the Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress when Obamacare was passed and signed into law and then the Supreme Court ruled it to be constitutional. So initially the health care law was supported by all three branches of our government. Since then the Republicans have managed to only take and maintain control of the House of Representatives. Since becoming the majority party in the lower chamber, House Republicans passed legislation to do away with Obamacare at least 39 times (at last counting). These were 39 acts of futility because not only was the Senate never going to go along, but Republicans could not have mustered the 290 votes necessary to overcome a presidential veto even in the legislative chamber they control. So one half of one of the three branches of government has been trying, unsuccessfully, bring down Obamacare all by themselves.
However, some Republicans saw an opening because the House, which they control, had to agree to both keeping the government running and to continuing to pay the country’s bills. To be fair, many moderate Republicans, including Speaker Boehner, initially viewed using these two issues to try to get rid of Obamacare undesirable, primarily they were looking to the best interest of the country and because they feared that the use of hostage tactics would hurt the Republican party nationally. But the Tea Party caucus, made up of 30 to 40 extreme right wing House members effectively bullied Speaker Boehner and rest of the Republican House members to go along with their plan to grab country by the throat and squeeze its economic jugular veins, closing down the government and threatening to default on the nation’s debt, until the Senate and the President give in to their demands to shut down Obamacare.
Many Senate Republicans and even some moderate House Republicans have spoken out against this tactic saying that it is not in the best interest in of the country and may even be political suicide for the national Republican Party. However, Tea Party members in the House know that their antics will be well received in their ultra conservative districts back home and they are obviously much more inclined to look to their own reelection chances than the welfare of the country. And you can bet that even now powerful conservative organizations are raising money to defeat in their next primary election any moderate Republican that goes against the Tea Party stance. Fear of retribution might explain why Speaker Boehner will not allow the House to vote up or down on a clear bill to fund the government even though many knowledgeable observers believe that enough moderate Republicans would join the Democrats in the House and passing it, ending the shutdown.
So the bottom line is that a minority in one half of one of our three of three branches of government is intent on holding the country hostage until their demands are met. So how do we deal with this situation? Well I think that you have to deal with political terrorists the way you deal with any other group of terrorists – you don’t negotiate with them and you wait them out. Hopefully they will come to their senses and/or more pragmatic Republicans will prevail before real damage is done to the economy and/or the country goes into default. If not the American voting public will surely to take its revenge on Republicans candidates in the next national election.