Throughout the past two weeks, House Republicans repeatedly passed legislation pairing the extension of governmental funding with delayed implementation of the Affordable Care Act. After the Senate rejected each of these proposals, the government shut down for the first time since 1996. In the past, Congress has diffused disagreements over the budget by continually passing stopgap budgets, the most recent of which was implemented in March. However, Congress has become so polarized over the past months that even passing another stopgap budget before the Sept. 30 deadline proved impossible.
The present shutdown arose not from inter-party intransigence but from a schism within the GOP itself. Tea Party Republicans increasingly view the very notion of compromise as incompatible with their political interests, and have now proven that they are willing to place their own agenda over the wishes of the American public.
Obamacare is only a straw man. As far as legislators are concerned, the real enemy appears to be anything resembling negotiation with the other side. As the crunch to avert shutdown reached its peak on Monday night, political fights erupted between right-wing and moderate Republicans. Different conservative lobby organizations even sent last-minute emails encouraging various blocs to vote both for and against proposed legislation.
This crucible session reveals a hard-liner push to supplant the Republican establishment, which still believes there’s value in compromise. Without the usual suspects like Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holding sway over their party, it is unlikely that Congress will be able to strike last-minute bipartisan deals of the kind that successfully avert debt default and the fiscal cliff in the future.
The hard-liners’ coup also reveals an incoherence of strategy. During battles over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, House Republicans demonstrated a tendency to relent at the eleventh hour in an effort to duck the blame for failing to compromise with the Democrats. But a CNN poll on Monday found that 46 percent of Americans would hold Republicans responsible for shutdown alone, just over a third would hold President Obama responsible, and 13 percent would hold both sides equally accountable. Despite Republican’s insistence on defunding the president’s signature healthcare law, Obamacare launched Tuesday since funding is locked into mandatory spending. This week’s shutdown proves that negative repercussions will no longer serve as compelling deterrents to right-wingers in future partisan tussles.
The American people and the American economy are caught in the crossfire. The shutdown strikes a blow to everything from federal workers’ pay and small-business loans to airline revenues and gun license applications. Additionally, Federal Work Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants will be immediately impacted because they require maintenance by district personnel.The national federal workforce has already been shaken by sequestration and wage freezes, and up to 1 million additional federal employees could be furloughed. Minority communities, which make up 35 percent of federal employees compared to 30 percent of the private-sector workforce, will likely face increased employment insecurity and economic uncertainty during the shutdown.
The shutdown also poses a threat to the District economy. Although D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray kept the District government running through special reserve funding by designating all District employees as essential, the area could see up to $200 million in lost revenue per day if the shutdown persists. District services ranging from corporate capital-raising through the SEC, pharmaceutical applications pending from the FDA, the solvency of defense contractors, civilian military employment, and audits by the IRS could all face disruption under prolonged shutdown, slowing the daily functionality of the economy.
Republican obstinacy claimed another victim on Tuesday morning. That victim was not Obamacare, a presidential legacy, or Democrats’ integrity, however sought-after those targets were. Instead, the economy, the American people, and Republicans themselves will suffer as a result of this unnecessary farce. The present crisis is a result of a dysfunctional strategy—brinkmanship that’s not just irresponsible, but highly revealing of fundamental issues in our republic.
The root problem of the shutdown is deeply embedded in the structure of our political system. Because of aggressive redistricting by GOP state legislators after the 2010 census, many of the Republicans in the House pushing to keep the government shut are unlikely to face political consequences. They have more to fear from an ultra-conservative, corporate-backed primary opponent than a Democratic challenger, and in this sense are acting in their best political interest.
If this shutdown shows us anything as students, it’s that we need more than new legislators—we need deep structral reform of the entire electoral system. Until we ensure powerful corporate interests and their chosen politicians cannot rig the system to their benefit, the gridlock and cycle of crises will undoubtably continue. It’s up to us as the aspiring political class to look beyond partisan squabbles and inflammatory headlines and instead create a system that truly stands up for the public interest. As this crisis shows, there’s no time to start like the present.