America at the Brink

America now stands at the edge of a government shutdown on October 1 if Congress fails to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the operations of the federal government as it begins its new fiscal year. Right now, passage of this bill in its present form looks extremely unlikely.

Continuing Resolutions (temporary measures to fund government operations) have become common in recent years, as the two houses of Congress have been unable to agree on an annual budget. In fact, federal budgets have been approved on time only four times in the last 35 years, the last being in 1997.

The Senate passed its own version of a new budget earlier this year, but the House majority leader, John Boehner, has refused to let it come for a vote since the Republican majority in the House of Representatives opposes it. Unless new spending appropriations are passed by October 1, all non-essential government services will have to be shut down. Some 800,000 federal employees will be laid off. Veterans’ affairs, national parks, environmental protection, and a host of other services will be shut down. Civilian employees providing support services in the military will also be sent home.

obama-signs-affordable-care-act_custom-b7af1438c0b0d7bbf85748009e257a998040d1ae-s6-c30How did matters reach this crisis point? It all revolves around the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) passed by Congress in early 2010. Republicans have been opposed to the Act from the beginning, and have been throwing up roadblocks to its full implementation ever since.

Immediately after the Affordable Care Act was passed Republicans challenged its constitutionality in court. The Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional, except for one provision that infringed upon states’ rights which was then modified. Republicans fought a presidential election over it in 2012 with their candidate promising to repeal Obamacare as soon as he took office. They lost again. Since then, the Republican controlled House has voted 42 times to repeal, defeat, or defund Obamacare – all to no effect. They have delayed other important committee work and legislation, and have neglected dealing with bills passed by the Senate so as to focus on this one all-consuming issue.

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Through it all, work has continued during the last three years to prepare for the full implementation of this Act. Negotiations have been conducted with individual states to get them on board with the plan through a variety of arrangements. Subsidies have been arranged for those presently uninsured would have difficulty in paying health care premiums. A network of health care exchanges has been set up to assist people in finding the best rates and provisions to choose from. Health insurers have created new plans and new rate structures to deal with new enrollees. And most recently an army of “navigators” has been hired and trained to counsel individual applicants seeking health care insurance.

Now the preparatory work is done. As of Tuesday, October 1 (the same day that the federal government must have new money to continue operations), people will able to begin enrolling for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. They will have 6 months in which to do this, and the coverage for those enrolled will begin on January 1, 2014.

Republican opponents are in a panic. They are determined to stop Obamacare by any means possible. Their latest strategy, with all else having failed, has been to shut down the U.S. government if Obamacare is not withdrawn.

Events this Past Week

On Friday, September 20, the House passed a Continuing Resolution approving a temporary continuation of funding until December 15, 2013 with an attached amendment to defund Obamacare. The resolution then went to the Senate for consideration.

Ted CruzIn a lively spectacle, Junior Republican Senator Ted Cruz mounted a 21-hour monologue (it was not technically a filibuster) imploring his fellow Republicans to prevent his own Party’s House bill from receiving a Senate vote. (That struck many as an odd strategy.) Afterward the Senate voted 100-0 to take up the bill anyway, and the Democratic majority proceeded to strip off the amendment defunding Obamacare. By Friday, the Senate had voted to pass the unamended bill, and sent it back to the House for final approval.

But Republicans members of the House were not satisfied. Republican Tea Party members in the House consulted Senator Ted Cruz and followed his advice – opposing the announced strategy of the House majority leader John Boehner – and attached new amendments to the resolution before passing it. There is something rather astonishing when a junior Tea Party Senator elected to Congress only 8 months ago has more clout with House Republicans than their own seasoned, senior leader.

House Republicans have finally realized that they cannot succeed in defunding Obamacare outright. So they have developed a fallback plan. A new amendment will this time only  seek to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year until January 2015. Other amendments will repeal the medical device tax (adding $30 billion to the federal deficit over the next ten years), and allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage. In addition, the House passed a separate bill to continue paying military personnel during the expected government shutdown.

The bills received unanimous support from Republican members of the House. They now go back to the Senate to be dealt with on Monday morning with less than one day remaining to find a resolution to the funding crisis. The Democratic Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, however, has already declared the new House bill, with its one year delay of Obamacare, to be dead on arrival.

Harry ReidImpatience with the House tactics is growing. Harry Reid sharply stated,

After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at Square 1. We continue to be willing to debate these issues in a calm and rational atmosphere. But the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.

This is unusually strong language for Harry Reid. But it is no stronger than that used by Republican critics who have repeatedly called Obamacare a totalitarian, Communist scheme that is the most destructive law ever passed by Congress and will bring the country to ruin.

For those of us living outside the United States where national health coverage has been a standard practice for many decades, this extreme rhetoric seems quite absurd. America’s closest neighbor and strongest ally. Canada, has had national health care for 50 years, and no one there would dream of doing without it. When Canadians were asked several years ago to name the greatest Canadian of all time, and they overwhelmingly named Tommy Douglas, the political leader who introduced national health care in Canada.

Republicans are in a panic because they know that in a few years Americans will also embrace the benefits of their new national health care plan and no one will dare to take those benefits away. The American public may even give lasting credit to President Obama who persevered and made these benefits possible.

The ideological opponents of Obamacare can see the writing on the wall. Having lost all other gambits, they have retreated to at least demanding that Obamacare be delayed for a year – until after the 2014 mid-term elections. They know that if Obamacare goes into effect in January of 2014, by the time the election campaigns are in full swing people will have gotten used to their benefits. Those living in Republican controlled states that have rejected the local implementation of the Affordable Care Act will look at their neighbors’ coverage and begin to demand the same.

Elections will be fought and lost on this issue. It could well decimate the Republican and Tea Party ranks. It is quite possible that within a short time any politician defiantly opposing the ACA will come to be held in as much disdain as were those who continued to obstinately oppose school segregation after the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s. This legislation is that big of a game changer

My advice to the opponents of Obamacare: Get over it and move on to other things. If this is the ditch you have chosen to die in, so be it. There will be few mourners.

 Credits: Getty Images; AP; Star Tribune

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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