Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Inside the Stupidity of the Shutdown

Posted October 1, 2013

The United States has entered multiple twilight zones with the shutdown of the federal government, basically refusal by the House  to pass a  routine continuing service agreement. That, to name only a few of the consequences,  closes national parks, shuts most of NASA and disease control services, halts several Head Start and day care programs and forces payless vacations on 800,000 workers while asking many more to work without regular paychecks, not to mention the impact on small businesses relying on these customers.

No big deal, say those living in a vacuum – largely radically conservative districts so controlled by gerrymandering that their residents won’t speak up against the extremists they send to Congress.  They believe this doesn’t hurt more than a paper cut.  Shutdowns are rare, but when they happened in the past,  they say, the affected workers were made whole and the re-start costs were sucked up by taxpayers.  But federal workers I talk to aren’t so sure -- this time they are dealing with ideologues who may say they shouldn’t be paid for work they didn’t do.  And meanwhile, how do they feed their kids?

In fact, most extremists want this shutdown to be a mere prelude to a bigger economic disaster later in October --  refusing to raise the debt ceiling.  There is a lot of public misunderstanding about what “raising the debt ceiling” means, since it  doesn’t add a penny to the debt. It’s a usually routine mechanism to allow the government to pay the bills Congress has already rung up.  Without it the nation could quickly plunge back into a recession or into lower credit ratings since it becomes an international deadbeat.

The media isn’t helping here. In the need to draw eyeballs and sell newspapers, it is treating this situation as gridlock between the political parties, as if the blame is fairly equal. But deeper  pundits on both the left and right actually know it is all being caused by a small controlling segment of the GOP known (perhaps too much in shorthand) as the Tea Party wing – and daily more detested by centrist Republicans.

 But these were the elected members from the far right who blamed President Obama in 2010  for the economic meltdown caused years before he entered office but hitting them right as he took office. So this has become a well funded but totally phony argument that the way to stop bad government is to shut all government down.  That’s something like holding your breath in the hope that someone will take you to the hospital once you turn blue. Or refusing to pay your monthly credit card bills – boy, that will bring Wall Street to its knees!

This time the excuse for the shutdown, which simply hurts ordinary Americans, was it would defund Obamacare, which it can’t. In fact the launch of the state by state Exchanges started the same day as the shutdown Oct. 1, protected by  separate funding. The feared glitches stemmed from how many people tried to sign up the first day of a six-month enrollment period, a signal of how hungry the uninsured 15% of the nation are to find a plan.

So it was all bogus. In fact, the flabbergaster in chief, Ted Cruz, knew it. His 21 hour Senate talkathon was never a filibuster because it had no legal or practical chance of stopping anything.  It was also totally a joke on his supporters and they fell for it when he compared Obamacare to addiction to sugar, in this case the sugar being better health coverage – huh?
He warped the meaning of the world’s most famous children’s author, Dr. Suess (actually Theodor Geisel,  a famous liberal thinker),  by reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” which is actually about the value of trying unfamiliar food and finding it tasty. Isn’t that the real danger of Obamacare? He’s afraid it will work!

The Cruz control approach raised money for his future national campaigns but deeply offended the conservative  business community.  Remember, Obama even back in 2008 was attacked by the left for not going far enough into government control of health care, insisting that private health insurers should gain the 30 million uninsured Americans. Obama rejected single payer or the government paying physicians and hospitals directly, as has worked  in other nations, because he wanted to protect the existing US private system.  In other words, despite the attacks from Hillary Clinton and others, he preferred being more of a capitalist than a socialist.

Now the supposedly fiscally concerned  Tea Party wants to rob the business community of these new customers.  At least Obama understood how insurance works, especially social insurance.  The larger the pool the cheaper the cost.  And if you can include the more healthy as well as the less healthy that’s how you bring costs down.  Delaying the individual mandate as the Tea Party wanted simply assured that costs would rise for health providers and for the governments involved since the less healthy would flock in and the healthier young who already consider themselves  invincible would have an excuse to stay out.

Comes another  twilight zone.  When its first attacks on the Affordable Health Care failed in Congress, the House GOP switched strategies and now wants the  public to think it was only about desiring conference negotiations on the entire US budget (so much for Cruz and multiple caucus votes).

But the GOP had refused that conference idea 18 times in 6 months! Last spring the House passed a budget and the Senate did, too, and it was the GOP that refused to hold conferences to reconcile the differences, even though the Democrats, biting their lips, accepted the lower budget amount represented by the still hated sequester.

And now they are painting Obama as the one  unwilling to negotiate and compromise!

We have now entered so many twilight zones that a string theory physicist couldn’t  work it out.
Because isn’t this the president talking openly if cautiously to Iran (after three decades when we didn’t), and to Russia and to Syria, all to thwart the international threat of weapons of mass destruction?  It’s too early to know what will work and what won’t, but already Obama’s threat of military action has brought agreement from Syria  to turn over all its chemical weapons to the United Nations.

What the Tea Party House is actually revealing is that they are more stubborn about talking to Obama than  three totalitarian regimes!  That raises  a horrifying reality. This sliver of  elected representatives of our democracy, sent to D.C. to make government work better, are less open  to talk and more eager to extort Obama than nations notorious for human rights violations.

It’s a comment on these representatives but mainly on the voters who put them in office.