Government shutdown may be a necessary disaster

Republicans are right to make a stand on this issue, but may pay a price that many who fear for their incumbency are unwilling to pay. Photo: De-fund Obamacare/ AP

AUSTIN, Texas, September 30, 2012 — The fight to defund Obamacare is a noble fight and Ted Cruz is a political hero for taking it up so vehemently in the Senate. It has been great political theatre, but there may be unconsidered consequences which should raise concern.

Cruz’s campaign to stir up popular support for the House Continuing Resolution which defunds Obamacare has gotten Republican voters fired up and has polarized Republicans in Congress. It has separated the sheep from the goats by putting some Republican leaders in the position of standing against their constituents and revealing their support for the unpopular healthcare program. 


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Representative Peter King, R-NY, has spoken for many in the party leadership in opposition to Cruz, commenting that “Ted Cruz is a fraud and will no longer have any influence in the Republican Party,” which is easy to say when you have a safe district full of millionaires to run from. King’s constituents aren’t small business owners who may be bankrupted by Obamacare, and they aren’t the working poor who will see their hours cut and have to pay a penalty for insurance they can’t afford.

While Cruz was making his epic speech, some of his Republican colleagues were working against him behind his back, including fellow Texan John Cornyn who is Minority Whip. Cornyn, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain and a handful of other top Republican senators were successful in winning over enough votes to pass the Continuing Resolution without including defunding Obamcare, at the same time that Cruz was trying to make people aware of the dangers of the bill with his litany of personal stories from those it will harm.

These insiders have been more concerned with keeping government operations funded than they are with stopping Obamacare. In contrast, Senator Cruz clearly couldn’t care less if the government gets shut down, if that’s the route to ending Obamacare and reopening negotiations on healthcare.

Cruz showed an admirable commitment to principle, but he was probably never going to win this fight, at least not at this point. His speech may have given some inspiration to Republican representatives in the House, however.  


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Twenty-five Senate Republicans voted for cloture on the bill, declaring that they were effectively willing to allow the bill to go forward with funding for Obamacare, because that cloture vote allowed Majority Leader Reid to pass an amendment to remove the defunding measure from the bill. They all then voted against the Continuing Resolution, knowing that they would be outnumbered on a purely partisan vote.  

These Senators will now go back to their constituents and claim that they voted against funding Obamacare, a deceptive claim because their only real chance of stopping the bill was the cloture vote where they voted with the Democrats, not the titular vote for the bill itself. Voters are paying closer attention than they have in the past, and these deceptions seem not to be working.

The backlash against Senator John Cornyn on social media over the weekend was unprecedented, with tens of thousands of comments on his Facebook page from Texas voters berating him for his cloture vote. One Texan wrote, “Now that you’ve come out of the closet, voting in lockstep with the Democrats, I hope you’ll continue to be honest and run as a Democrat next year. We need the room on the Republican side of the ballot for your successor.”

Senators who voted to fund Obamacare include Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander and Mitch McConnell, all of whom can expect to face serious primary challenges that are now a little bit stronger because of this vote. Many Democratic Senators will also face Republican challengers running on the healthcare issue.


SEE RELATED: House Republicans pass an olive branch bill on Obamacare


On returning to the House of Representatives, the resolution went to the Rules Committee, where a compromise was crafted that would offer an alternative to defunding Obamacare, which the president and Democratic leaders find almost as unacceptable — a one-year delay of full implementation of the healthcare system. This provision was accompanied by a guarantee that members of the military would be given priority for payment in a government shutdown as well as the elimination of the unpopular “medical device” tax. The compromise bill passed on a near party-line vote.

In offering this particular compromise, the House is almost demanding a government shutdown. The president has already promised a veto. More significantly, Harry Reid has made clear that he will not allow the compromise bill to pass the Senate intact. With the Senate not convening until 2 p.m. on Monday, it’s very unlikely that if the Senate rejects the bill they can get another version put together and past both houses before midnight, when government funding supposedly runs out.

This means that the government would “shut down” on Tuesday. To a lot of Americans, the idea of a federal-level shutdown doesn’t sound all that scary. Even many who depend on the government for support like Medicare and Social Security are fed up enough to take a little hardship to make an important point. Others also remember the shutdowns during the Clinton era that did very little clear harm to most of the public. Also, most urgent and essential services are provided by state and local government, except things like the military, which the bill provides for.

Many also understand that the government isn’t really out of money. It isn’t really going to shut down as the scaremongers claim. The failure to pass a continuing funding resolution only effects a relatively small portion of the budget. That shortfall has to be made up from other areas, necessitating cost-saving measures like layoffs or closing some facilities, but unless the “shutdown” goes on for months, the negative effects can be managed. We have seen it before and it wasn’t all that disastrous.

The big political question is who will get the blame if there is a shutdown. Both sides are claiming the other side is being extremist and unwilling to compromise. Harry Reid blamed Ted Cruz and the Tea Party and called them “anarchists.” Cruz has made the argument that the administration has granted exemptions or delays to big businesses and executives and even Congress, but won’t do the same for small businesses and common workers. Polls show voters almost evenly split on who they blame, but that may be shifting against the Democrats.

With the implementation deadline approaching, hundreds of thousands of consumers have received emails indicating massive increases in premiums and forced changes to plans which don’t represent their real healthcare needs. The one-size-fits-all approach is apparently not very efficient or cost effective. We have already seen widespread layoffs and hours being cut to conform with the arbitrary limits in the healthcare law. Dire warnings of the impact of the bill on workers and small businesses from the Congressional Budget Office have gone unheeded by the Democrats.  

As Senator Cruz described the situation on Meet the Press, “People all over the country are losing their jobs, they’re being forced into part-time work, they’re facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums, and they’re losing their health insurance.”

Cruz makes a strong argument about all of these problems in Obamacare. The dangers of the program do seem bad enough to risk a shutdown to at least get a delay of implementation. The Democrats hate the idea of a delay, because then we would go through the traumatic startup period we are just entering now all over again right before the 2014 election. The political consequence would be an electoral bloodbath.

There’s one dangerous flaw in Senator Cruz’s reasoning. Once the government shutdown starts, decisions on where the remaining money gets spent aren’t controlled by Congress or by some well thought out plan. They are controlled by the executive branch. In the end, President Obama decides which programs get money and which ones don’t. This gives him a great deal of power if he is motivated to politicize those decisions, which he certainly will be.

A responsible administration would make funding decisions to minimize the harm done, spreading out the cuts to areas which effect the public as little as possible in the short term: furlough some bureaucrats, shut down some public monuments and parks, suspend pension fund payments.

An administration with a political axe to grind can take a very different approach: large scale layoffs, delaying pay and benefit checks, cutting programs for children, causing some real suffering. People who aren’t following the political process will only see the effects and a lot of them will put the blame where the president tells them to. He has the media access and the bully pulpit, so when he and his media surrogates point the finger at Ted Cruz and their favorite boogeyman, the Tea Party, those accusations may stick.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi claims that a government shutdown will stop job growth, crash the stock market and destabilize the economy. If that happens, someone is going to pay a big political price for it. It seems clear that the failure to compromise here is coming from the Democrats, but with President Obama in control and the media following his lead, the blame may very well fall on Republicans who are just trying to avert the bigger disaster of a poorly designed and deeply flawed healthcare system.

If Pelosi is correct about the effects of a shutdown, there is something fundamentally wrong with our nation. If the private sector depends so heavily on government spending for its basic survival, our nation is fatally ill and needs a radical cure. This is not the way a capitalist nation should operate. The government and the private sector should be largely separate, not so interdependent that changes in government spending can bring about boom or bust.  

As a matter of economic policy, Obamacare is the exact wrong way to go. It gives the government control of close to another 20 percent of the economy. That move towards more dependence on government spending is horribly dangerous. This alone justifies the risk of a shutdown if it is the price which must be paid to try to replace Obamacare with a free market solution to our healthcare needs.

Republicans are right to make a stand on this issue, but may pay a price for it that many who fear for their incumbency are unwilling to pay.


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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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