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“Obamacare Sabotage Becomes Murder”: U.S. Federal Government Shuts Down

The United States federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years on Tuesday, as Congress failed to end a bitter budget row after hours of dizzying brinkmanship.

Ten minutes before midnight, the White House budget office issued an order for many government departments to start closing down, triggering 800,000 furloughs of federal workers, and shutting tourists out of monuments like the Statue of Liberty, national parks and museums.

Prospects for a swift resolution were unclear and economists warned that the struggling U.S. economic recovery could suffer if the shutdown drags on for more than just a few days.

Only workers deemed essential will be at their desks from Tuesday onwards, leaving government departments like the White House with skeleton staff.

Vital functions like mail delivery and air traffic control will continue as normal, however.

On a day of dysfunction and ugly rhetoric in the divided U.S. political system, Republicans had repeatedly tied new government funding to attempts to defund, delay or dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

But each time their effort was killed by Obama’s allies in the Democratic-led Senate, leaving the government in limbo when its money ran out at the end of the fiscal year at midnight Monday.

“This is an unnecessary blow to America,” a somber Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor two minutes after the witching hour.

A few hours into the shutdown, Republicans in the House appointed delegates, or conferees, to try to negotiate with the Senate later Tuesday on a spending plan to get the government up and running again.

But if they still want to tinker with Obamacare, the Senate will not negotiate, an aide to Reid said.

“If the House follows through with their current plan, the Senate will vote to table the House’s conference gambit shortly after convening. And we will be back at square one,” the aide said.

Obama, heralding the first government shutdown since 1996, told U.S. troops in a video that they deserved better from Congress, and promised to work to get the government reopened soon.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Obama’s budget director, said agencies should execute plans for an “orderly shutdown”, and urged Congress to swiftly pass bridge financing that would allow the government to open again.

Obama earlier accused Republicans of holding America to ransom with their “extreme” political demands, while his opponents struck back at his party’s supposed arrogance.

House Speaker John Boehner rebuked Obama in a fiery floor speech after an unproductive call with the president.

“I didn’t come here to shut down the government,” Boehner said. “The American people don’t want a shutdown, and neither do I.”

Republicans accuse Obama of refusing to negotiate in good faith, but the White House says Obamacare is settled law and says there is no way to stop it from going into force, with a goal of providing affordable health care to all Americans.

The crisis is rooted in the long running campaign by “Tea Party” Republicans in the House to overturn or disable Obamacare — the president’s principal domestic political achievement — key portions of which also come into force on Tuesday.

More broadly, the shutdown is the most serious crisis yet in a series of rolling ideological skirmishes between Democrat Obama and House Republicans over the size of the U.S. government and its role in national life.

“One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election,” Obama said, referring to his own re-election. He spoke in a televised statement from the White House.

Obama warned that a government shutdown could badly damage an economy which has endured a sluggish recovery from the worst recession in decades.

“A shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away. Past shutdowns have disrupted the economy significantly,” Obama said.

Consultants Macroeconomic Advisors said it would slow growth, recorded at a 2.5 percent annual pace in the second quarter.

A two-week shutdown would cut 0.3 percentage point off of gross domestic production.

It would also have a painful personal impact on workers affected — leaving them to dip into savings or delay mortgage payments, monthly car loan bills and other spending.

Stocks on Monday retreated as traders braced for the shutdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 128.57 points (0.84 percent) to 15,129.67.

Markets are likely to be even more traumatized if there is no quick solution to the next fast approaching crisis.

Republicans are also demanding Obama make concessions in the health care law to secure a lifting of the current $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, without which the United States would begin to default on its debts for the first time in history by the middle of October.

 

By: AFP, The National Memo, October 1, 2013

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Series Of Near-Death Experiences”: Republicans Threatening National Harm Every Few Months

Against the backdrop of a government-shutdown deadline, Karen Tumulty noted yesterday the “cumulative effect of almost three years of governing by near-death experience.” It’s phrasing that rings true for a reason — since Republicans retook the House majority in January 2011, no major legislation has become law, but we have endured quite a few crises.

In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called “fiscal cliff.” In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. And right now, in September 2013, the odds of a government shutdown are quite good once again.

That’s eight self-imposed, entirely unnecessary, easily avoidable crises since John Boehner got his hands on the Speaker’s gavel — a 33-month period in which Congress racked up zero major legislative accomplishments.

Josh Marshall had a good item on the trend over the weekend.

Years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase ‘defining deviancy down.’ James Q. Wilson popularized the conceptually related “broken windows” theory of crime and crime prevention. Whether or not these theories and catch phrases work as sociology is separate question; subsequent research has not been kind. But they capture the toxic consequences of the normalization and expanded acceptance of destructive behavior — something that not only applies to individuals and communities but to states and their internal workings. Stepping back from the latest Washington debacle, you quickly see how far down this road we’ve gone without really even realizing it.

It has started to feel normal that two or three times a year we have a major state/fiscal crisis and maybe once every 18 months or two years, there is a true breakdown with fairly grave consequences….. [T]his is really unprecedented stuff — deep attacks on the state itself inasmuch as the state requires for it to function a penumbra of norms surrounding the formal mechanisms of government.

Quite right. In fact, I think it creates unsettling conditions and raises uncomfortable questions about the future of the American experiment.

Put simply, great nations can’t function this way. The United States can either be a 21st-century superpower or it can tolerate Republicans abandoning the governing process and subjecting Americans to a series of self-imposed extortion crises. It cannot do both.

We can be the indispensable nation — we can even be a shining city on a hill — but not with a radicalized major party that throws seasonal tantrums that threaten the nation’s wellbeing. The cost is simply too great.

In the abstract, I imagine Americans who don’t pay attention to day-to-day developments have come to expect routine gridlock and partisan bickering. Democrats and Republicans arguing is arguably the ultimate in dog-bites-man stories.

But those same Americans should search their memories: have they ever seen a governing party threaten five government shutdowns in less than three years, while sprinkling two debt-ceiling crises on top?

The American tradition has no experience with our own elected officials imposing deliberate crises on the nation — as if one of our major political parties is mad at us and feels the need to punish us for offending them.

I realize Republicans consider the Affordable Care Act an example of such profound outrage that they have no choice but to threaten Americans on purpose. I can’t begin to fathom why they hate a moderate law based on Republican principles with such wild-eyed contempt, but it’s currently the world we live in.

My suggestion to them, however, is that they introduce legislation that would deliver their preferred goals. If it passes, they’ll get what they want. If it fails, they can try winning more elections. Either way, watching Republican officials — ostensibly elected to advance our interests — threaten national harm every few months has quite tiresome.

 

By: Steve benen, The Maddow Blog, September 30, 2013

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Conservatism Can Never Fail”: Why Tea Partiers Think They Will Win

Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted, in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn’t a conservative after all, wrote, “Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren’t true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets.” We’ve seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren’t conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs.

There’s already a tactical division within the Republican Party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won’t dismantle his greatest domestic policy accomplishment, and he won’t delay it for a year. He just won’t. The members who are newer, particularly Tea Partiers who got elected in 2010 and 2012, think that if they just hold fast, eventually Obama will buckle.

And there’s another difference between the two groups. That first group of older members were around for the shutdowns during the Clinton years, and remember how badly things turned out for them. Here’s an excerpt from an NPR story aired this morning:

“It was a calculated gamble on the part of the speaker, Newt Gingrich,” says Steve Bell, who was a Republican congressional aide. The new Republican majority in Congress decided to push their spending fight with President Clinton to the limit, even if it meant shutting down the government.

“And at first, about half of us thought it was a bad idea and half of us thought it was a good idea,” says Bell. “But in the perfect example of groupthink, we talked ourselves into believing that, oh, the president will get blamed and we will be able to get our way.”

Bell, who’s now with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, says the Gingrich gamble didn’t pay off, except for President Clinton.

“The president wasn’t blamed,” says Bell. And “the amount of money we saved over that government shutdown literally is almost a rounding error. So we went through all of this for almost no savings, net-net, and we successfully re-elected someone that we thought we were supposed to defeat.”

All the reporting I’ve seen says that is the perspective shared by John Boehner and others in the GOP leadership. The problem is that Tea Partiers in the House don’t see it that way. They believe the shutdown will be blamed on President Obama, and the only possible way for Republicans to lose is if they give in too soon.

That’s because the idea that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed, extends beyond ideology to its tactical extension, eternal and maximal opposition to Barack Obama and everything he wants to do. Fighting Obama is a strategy that can never fail. If failure happens, it can only be because we didn’t fight him hard enough.

Once this is all over, they’ll be telling everyone the same old story. If only the party had been stronger, if only Boehner had stood firm, if only we had kept the government closed for another week or another month, everyone would have seen we were right, Obama would have been crippled for the remainder of his term, we would have won a smashing victory in the 2014 mid-term elections, and the blow that led to Obamacare’s inevitable death would have been struck. But we were betrayed by Boehner and the other cowards and quislings.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if come 2015, where you stood on the shutdown becomes a key litmus test Tea Party activists apply to GOP presidential contenders.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 30, 2013

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Law Of The Land”: The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act Stopped Being A “Bill” Several Years Ago

When congressional Republicans condemn the Affordable Care Act, there’s one problematic word in particular they tend to use an awful lot. The Hill did a nice job picking up on the trend.

In floor speeches, TV interviews and town halls, Republicans often refer to President Obama’s signature healthcare law either as “ObamaCare” or a healthcare “bill” — subtly implying that it’s not truly permanent.

“The bill is named after the president. Why wouldn’t the president want to be under the bill?” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) asked in a floor speech earlier this month, making the case that the president should get his healthcare through ObamaCare.

It’s clear that Enzi, who famously admitted that he engaged in health care reform negotiations in bad faith, is confused. The name of the reform law is technically the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” not “Obamacare,” so it’s not “named after the president.”

But that’s not the important thing. Rather, note that Enzi refers to the law as a “bill.” So does Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who said last week that “this bill,” referring to the health care law, is going to hurt people. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said there are “a host of problems [with] this bill.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said “this bill” isn’t working. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) chastised Democrats for supporting “this dog of a bill.”

Keep in mind, all of these quotes come from this month — September 2013 — not from the debate when the law was actually still a bill.

The Hill‘s report added that the Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that roughly 40% of Americans don’t know that the Affordable Care Act is, to use John Boehner’s phrase, the law of the land. One possible explanation for such widespread ignorance is the way in which congressional Republicans mislead the public in such a brazen way.

But stepping past the rhetoric, there’s also a substantive significance to this.

If you listened to the House floor debate on Saturday night or watched the Sunday shows, you know the GOP desperately hopes to characterize the current crisis as a “both sides” problem so it won’t receive the bulk of the blame. To hear Republicans tell it, they demand that “Obamacare” be gutted, while Democrats demand that “Obamacare” be implemented. “See?” conservatives say, “both sides are making demands.”

The problem, of course, is that this is almost unimaginably dumb. What Democrats are arguing is that the law is already the law; it’s met constitutional muster according to the U.S. Supreme Court; and it’s up to the president to faithfully execute current laws. If Republicans want to change the law, they can introduce legislation and give it their best shot.

Both sides, in other words, aren’t making comparable “demands” — one side expects existing law to be implemented, the other expects to use extortion to undermine the law they claim to dislike.

It’s very likely why so many Republican U.S. senators, who presumably have some understanding of the differences between a “bill” and a “law,” keep deliberately getting this wrong. If the Affordable Care Act is just a “bill,” then it’s not fully legitimate and Republicans are justified in trying to sabotage it outside the American legislative process.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 30, 2013

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rebels Without A Clue”: Republicans Are Delusional About Both Economics And Politics

This may be the way the world ends — not with a bang but with a temper tantrum.

O.K., a temporary government shutdown — which became almost inevitable after Sunday’s House vote to provide government funding only on unacceptable conditions — wouldn’t be the end of the world. But a U.S. government default, which will happen unless Congress raises the debt ceiling soon, might cause financial catastrophe. Unfortunately, many Republicans either don’t understand this or don’t care.

Let’s talk first about the economics.

After the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996 many observers concluded that such events, while clearly bad, aren’t catastrophes: essential services continue, and the result is a major nuisance but no lasting harm. That’s still partly true, but it’s important to note that the Clinton-era shutdowns took place against the background of a booming economy. Today we have a weak economy, with falling government spending one main cause of that weakness. A shutdown would amount to a further economic hit, which could become a big deal if the shutdown went on for a long time.

Still, a government shutdown looks benign compared with the possibility that Congress might refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

First of all, hitting the ceiling would force a huge, immediate spending cut, almost surely pushing America back into recession. Beyond that, failure to raise the ceiling would mean missed payments on existing U.S. government debt. And that might have terrifying consequences.

Why? Financial markets have long treated U.S. bonds as the ultimate safe asset; the assumption that America will always honor its debts is the bedrock on which the world financial system rests. In particular, Treasury bills — short-term U.S. bonds — are what investors demand when they want absolutely solid collateral against loans. Treasury bills are so essential for this role that in times of severe stress they sometimes pay slightly negative interest rates — that is, they’re treated as being better than cash.

Now suppose it became clear that U.S. bonds weren’t safe, that America couldn’t be counted on to honor its debts after all. Suddenly, the whole system would be disrupted. Maybe, if we were lucky, financial institutions would quickly cobble together alternative arrangements. But it looks quite possible that default would create a huge financial crisis, dwarfing the crisis set off by the failure of Lehman Brothers five years ago.

No sane political system would run this kind of risk. But we don’t have a sane political system; we have a system in which a substantial number of Republicans believe that they can force President Obama to cancel health reform by threatening a government shutdown, a debt default, or both, and in which Republican leaders who know better are afraid to level with the party’s delusional wing. For they are delusional, about both the economics and the politics.

On the economics: Republican radicals generally reject the scientific consensus on climate change; many of them reject the theory of evolution, too. So why expect them to believe expert warnings about the dangers of default? Sure enough, they don’t: the G.O.P. caucus contains a significant number of “default deniers,” who simply dismiss warnings about the dangers of failing to honor our debts.

Meanwhile, on the politics, reasonable people know that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t let himself be blackmailed in this way, and not just because health reform is his key policy legacy. After all, once he starts making concessions to people who threaten to blow up the world economy unless they get what they want, he might as well tear up the Constitution. But Republican radicals — and even some leaders — still insist that Mr. Obama will cave in to their demands.

So how does this end? The votes to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling are there, and always have been: every Democrat in the House would vote for the necessary measures, and so would enough Republicans. The problem is that G.O.P. leaders, fearing the wrath of the radicals, haven’t been willing to allow such votes. What would change their minds?

Ironically, considering who got us into our economic mess, the most plausible answer is that Wall Street will come to the rescue — that the big money will tell Republican leaders that they have to put an end to the nonsense.

But what if even the plutocrats lack the power to rein in the radicals? In that case, Mr. Obama will either let default happen or find some way of defying the blackmailers, trading a financial crisis for a constitutional crisis.

This all sounds crazy, because it is. But the craziness, ultimately, resides not in the situation but in the minds of our politicians and the people who vote for them. Default is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, September 29, 2013

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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