Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A history of the government shutdown

How did we get here? A brief review might be helpful, don't you think?

It actually began in the 1990s when Republicans developed 'Obamacare' - they didn't call it that, of course - as their alternative to the Clinton health care proposals.

Developed in a right-wing think tank as the free-market, capitalistic, insurance company-friendly alternative to the single-payer plans of other developed nations, it was widely supported in the GOP (though not pushed very hard, since it wouldn't help billionaires much).

Indeed, Mitt Romney's signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts was to get 'Romneycare' passed in his state, and he received a great deal of praise for that - yes, in his own Republican Party.

So in 2009, when the Democrats, who'd failed during the Clinton years to get health care reform past Republican opposition, decided to try again, they 'compromised' (as Democrats tend to compromise) by adopting the Republican plan lock, stock, and barrel. Surely that would be acceptable to them, wouldn't it?

Unfortunately, in January, before Barack Obama had even taken office, Republican leaders had met and vowed they'd do nothing to help America as long as our first black president was in the White House. (This is fact. Look it up. Some of them actually bragged about it.)

After all, the economy crashed on their watch. At that point, we were in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, and there was no end in sight. Republican priorities weren't to do all they could to help America, but to prevent Barack Obama from fixing the problem and becoming another Franklin D. Roosevelt in American eyes.

So they vowed to drag their feet all they could. And even when the Democrats adopted their own health care plan, Republicans turned against it en masse (with some arm-twisting by their leaders, admittedly).

But this is still a democracy, and Democrats were able to pass the Affordable Care Act through both houses of Congress (just barely squeaking by the now-inevitable filibuster which Senate Republicans were doing to pretty much everything). And it was signed into law by the president.

So it's a done deal. This is the law of the land, according to the Constitution of the United States.

Still, opponents fought on. They took it to the Supreme Court, which is dominated, 5 to 4, by right-wing Republicans. But 'Obamacare' was declared to be constitutional - by a Supreme Court dominated by Republicans.

They still didn't give up. 'Obamacare' wasn't scheduled to go into effect immediately, and there was another presidential election in 2012, so Republicans made repealing the Affordable Care Act a big part of their campaign,... and they lost bigtime.

They lost the presidency. (I hear Republicans claiming that they won the popular vote, but that's not even close to being true. Look it up.) They lost seats in the Senate (even though the Democrats had more seats to defend than they did) and they lost seats in the House of Representatives.

They still control the House, though, because Republicans in state legislatures have gerrymandered election districts to guarantee Republican control. In the House, Democrats received over a million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans still dominate, thanks to that gerrymandering. We have a minority party in control, even though they lost the popular vote, thanks to political shenanigans.

As I say, in most of those districts, Republicans are pretty much guaranteed a win. So they don't have to worry about the general election, only about the primary. And in the Republican Party these days, you have to be batshit crazy to get through the primary without an extremist challenger.

Anyway, after all this, you'd think Republicans would change course, wouldn't you? I mean, this is a democracy. And they did just take a shellacking at the ballot box, unable to convince a majority of Americans that their ideas were the best (despite a massive amount of money from anonymous billionaires and corporations).

But no, since they couldn't convince America they were right, they're now trying to force us to accept everything they wanted, anyway.

They claim that Democrats aren't willing to compromise,... but compromise about what? The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, even reviewed by the Supreme Court. And it's already started signing people up for health insurance.

The American people voted Democratic last year, despite Republican campaigning against this very law. But Republicans expect the Democrats to 'compromise' by abandoning the law? Even when the American people have just rejected Republican demands in a democratic vote?

Since democracy didn't work for them, Republicans are now taking hostages and threatening to shoot. Indeed, they've already shut down the government. For how long? Who knows?

This is economic terrorism. These terrorists couldn't get what they wanted in Congress, they couldn't get what they wanted in the courts, and they couldn't get what they wanted in democratic elections. So they've turned to force.

And it's not just about 'Obamacare' (again, their own health care plan!), either. Republicans have created a laundry list of demands before they'll raise the debt ceiling, too - and that's coming up very soon.

Yes, they're threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States of America unless they get everything they couldn't persuade Americans to go for in the election just last fall:
House Republicans said they would agree to increase the debt limit to avert a mid-October default only if Democrats accepted a list of Republican priorities, including a one-year delay of the health care law, a tax overhaul and a broad rollback of environmental regulations. ...

President Obama, who has faced three years of down-to-the-wire standoffs that have nearly ended in default or shutdowns a half-dozen times, fired back with a broadside of his own.

“No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget,” Mr. Obama said before a friendly audience in suburban Washington. ...

But in their efforts to unify restive Republicans, House leaders were only widening the partisan divisions. Behind closed doors on Thursday, they laid out their demands for a debt ceiling increase that include the health law delay, fast-track authority to overhaul the tax code, construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, offshore oil and gas production and more permitting of energy exploration on federal lands.

The legislation would also roll back regulations on coal ash, block new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminate a $23 billion fund to ensure the orderly dissolution of failed major banks, eliminate mandatory contributions to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limit medical malpractice lawsuits and increase means testing for Medicare, among other provisions.

Even with that legislative Christmas tree, many Republican backbenchers balked. ...

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 2 Democrat, derided the proposal. “The House is attaching the Republican Party platform to the debt ceiling,” he said. “In a week full of absurdities, this one takes the cake.” ...

Economists of all political persuasions have warned that a failure to raise the debt ceiling by the Treasury’s deadline of Oct. 17 could be catastrophic. The world economy’s faith in the safety of Treasury debt would be shaken for years. Interest rates could shoot up, and stock prices worldwide would most likely plummet.

“Defaulting on any obligation of the U.S. government would be a dangerous gamble,” Doug Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, told the House Budget Committee on Thursday. “In a very uncertain world, the one thing everyone has been able to count on is that the U.S. government will pay its bills on time.”

Republicans lost the election last year, but now they're trying to force us to accept the Republican Party platform anyway! It's just incredible, isn't it?

But some people will just never accept a black man as president. This is the result of the GOP's 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. In recent decades, it's given them the power to do whatever they wanted (mostly, to give tax cuts to the rich). But putting all the crazies into one political party has a downside, too.

And the election of our first black president has driven them to hysterics. They seem to be willing to destroy America if they don't get their own way. Well, they've tried it before, haven't they? Let's hope this doesn't end up in another bloody Civil War.

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