In a break from my experiment with poetry (which appears to be going well so far), this week I’ve decided it is rightful to address the government shutdown. Seeing as this isn’t a very common event, I’d like to present some ideas for dealing with it, alongside with a slightly new approach to how I structure these pieces.
Introduction: What caused the shutdown?
For those not living in the United States, the news of the shutdown of the government is likely not covered highly and/or not paid attention to. Even if it is, I’ve already had to explain to several people what’s going on this week, so I feel it’s a good idea to cover what caused the shutdown, and what it means for my country.
The shutdown occurred Monday, when Republicans and Democrats in Congress could not agree on a budget for the new fiscal year (which starts October 1st in the United States). House Republicans demanded that the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare” for obvious reasons, be defunded in the budget. Democrats in Congress and President Obama refused to budge, thereby allowing an automatic mechanism to go off which shut down the government.
So, what does the shutdown do?
The shutdown means that all “non-essential” services of the government will now go into remission until a new budget is passed by Congress and approved the president. While this may not seem like a big deal, it means that 800,000 federal workers are furloughed, and while some attempts have been made to ensure they get paid (for instance, active duty military will still be paid, among a few others), there’s a good chance many of these people will not be reimbursed for the foolishness of those in Congress.
Even if all furloughed workers are guaranteed back pay in the end, the shutdown can and will have other negative effects on the American economy. The stock market, while not immediately in decline, will experience shortfalls as the shutdown drags along. This will become especially problematic if the shutdown lasts beyond the point at which the debt ceiling must be raised on October 17th. If that occurs, the U.S. government will default on its debt, an unprecedented event in American history, and most surely an economic disaster if it happens. At best, the government shutdown would then end due to crisis-management compromises in Congress, and the economy would bounce back in a fashion even more anemic than its current recovery. At worst, a new recession begins.
While the amount of workers being furloughed in the shutdown (representing about 0.34% of the 235 million-member American workforce) is relatively small, the distribution of furloughed workers is where harsh realities kick in. Half of all civilian Department of Defense workers will be furloughed. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be shuttered even though it is hurricane season and the coasts are vulnerable (FEMA is also mostly closed). OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is closed (if you’re injured on the job that just sucks for you). The EPA is essentially gone. The IRS is not collecting many taxes, thereby making it even harder to pay our bills. The WIC (food stamps for pregnant women and children) are down. The FDA cannot continue to function. All in all, the “non-essential” services of government are actually quite fundamental to our society.
Who is to blame?
First things first, I’d like to note that people saying “this is not a time to shift blame” are spectacularly wrong. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know where it came from, and here, it is abundantly obvious where the issue originates.
The Republicans in Congress (chiefly the House of Representatives) are wholly at fault for this clusterfuck. While mainly caused by the radical right-wing of the Republican Party known as the Tea Party, mainstream Republicans and House speaker John Boehner have come together to fight against a functioning government. Jon Stewart captured it all wonderfully on the Daily Show this week; the Affordable Care Act is a law. It was passed by Congress and approved by the president. The Supreme Court affirmed it as being constitutional. Obama’s presidential re-election campaign covered it frequently, and he won by a fair margin. At this point, trying to stop Obamacare from happening is like trying to stop a rockslide with a flyswatter.
What can we do to solve this madness?
Much of the domestic debate about the shutdown has surrounded whether furloughed workers should receive back pay and which side in Congress should cave in order to pass a budget and re-open the government. I’m not even going to address the former; those people should be paid, since it’s not their fault they’re stuck at home. I’d prefer it if they were paid and worked as well; I’d like my air and water standards to stay in place even while the government is shutdown.
Instead, I’ll be looking at the latter. There should be no need to “cave” for the Democrats on this one; they are on the side of the law, and therefore have no reason to make concessions. I don’t like the Affordable Care Act, I’ll admit that; it gives far too much power and flexibility to private insurers over citizens and will ensure that prices and quality of care will never become optimal. However, I do not stand with Republicans in demanding this law be destroyed by defunding.
In order to fight the Republicans on this, we as citizens first need to know just how serious this is. Republicans are extorting the president and Congressional Democrats right now. This is not business as usual in Congress; this is not mere incompetence. This is extra-legal, and can be interpreted as a form of treason (though whether these are impeachable offenses could be debated). We must respond in kind.
That means we must go beyond what our normal reactions would be. We cannot just protest in the capital against this stupidity. We should be protesting everywhere we can; in the states these Republicans come from, the districts they were elected to represent. With a 90% incumbency rate in Congress largely due to gerrymandering and low voter turnout for Congressional elections, it is a lot to ask Americans to remember this shutdown until the next election. Even then, it’s more to ask Americans to make sure these Republicans don’t get re-elected. I’d like to believe we can do it, and I encourage us to try.
However, barring that future, if we cannot vote these people out, we must make their lives hell. I urge people under the reign of these Republicans to send countless emails, be persistent with your calls. Overwhelm their staff, send chain emails with nothing even in them if you have to. We might not be able to get rid of Republicans immediately, but we can certainly make life harder for them every step of the way. That’s exactly what I hope we do.
That is all for this week, and I hope I’ve provided a little insight for those out of the loop. As always, your feedback on my work is appreciated, so feel free to comment here. My online accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Steam, Tumblr, and Reddit are also open to communication, along with my email at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, and this is KnoFear, signing off.