Here we are again

By Zac Bears

House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), center, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, speak to reporters after meeting with GOP Governors-elect at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, December 1, 2010. (Mary F. Calvert/MCT)
House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), center, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, speak to reporters after meeting with GOP Governors-elect at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, December 1, 2010. (Mary F. Calvert/MCT)

We are back to square one. Current funding for the federal government runs through Sept. 30. In absence of a continuing resolution (which would extend current funding for three months) or a 2014 fiscal year budget agreement, the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1, millions of federal employees will stop going to work and the essential services provided to Americans by the government will cease. In mid-October, our national debt will reach the federal debt limit (the total amount of debt allowed by Congress in the name of the United States Government). The U.S. Treasury has used extraordinary measures to keep services running without hitting the debt limit for months.

This is the third procrastination-induced fiscal crisis in the past two years. In 2011, the Budget Control Act resolved the debt limit crisis by instituting the $900 billion sequester if the Congressional “super-committee” did not act. (It didn’t.) The resolution to the 2013 fiscal cliff crisis included some tax increases and delayed sequestration by two months, but sequestration began this spring, and continues to be an $85 billion drag on our economy this year alone. With no change, sequestration cuts will increase each year through 2022.

Republicans in the House and the Senate have also threatened to de-fund the Affordable Care Act in these budget negotiations. The “de-funding” concept is not a legal recourse to a legitimate loss of a vote in Congress, and is akin to nullification at a federal level. On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, “The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it.” He also said, “The constitutional process for repealing a law … is for both houses to enact a new bill that repeals the old, which must then be signed by the President.”

Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog compiled a list of the House GOP’s demands in exchange for raising the debt limit. The content of this list was taken from a Washington Examiner article outlining a GOP leadership budget package that the House may vote on as early as Friday. The list includes: Delayed Obamacare implementation, Keystone XL pipeline, tax reform commitment, pension reform, changes to Dodd-Frank and EPA rules, restrictions on regulation and more oil drilling. So, in return for raising the debt limit (a.k.a. pay the bills with owe to U.S. citizens), the GOP wants a slew of severely conservative policy changes moving even farther right than the Republican Party was even just eight years ago.

From waiting to sign citizens up for private health insurance (Obamacare started as a conservative idea), to shredding the financial protections instituted after the 2008 crash and eliminating environmentally friendly rules that have only recently begun to reshape the U.S. economy (which is good for business and the government’s bottom line), GOP decision-making defies reason.

In order to pay the government’s bills, the conservative movement deserves a political windfall: an embrace of conservatism by Barack Obama and the Democrats in order to save America from the towering menace of big government. Well, it’s not 1995 and this is not Bill Clinton’s America. The era of big government is not over, but the era of good government is just beginning.

The Democrats have realized that using market-based economic solutions can help solve policy problems that have plagued the federal government for decades. Market-based proposals have been in nearly every act proposed by the left over the past few years. The Affordable Care Act’s private insurance exchanges are an example of market-based reforms that have been enacted. The failed Markey-Waxman environmental protection and climate change bill focused on a market-based carbon cap-and-trade system, not a carbon tax imposed by the federal government.

There is no moral argument here. Non-market-based systems may work better and be administered more efficiently, but the conservative movement has won the overarching argument regarding issue framing. They controlled the agenda for the past 30 years, and Democrats now work within a system most recently shaped by Reagan and the two Bushes. Clinton was forced to work within that frame as well.

The only way to change the conversation and rewrite the agenda is to make Americans realize that the GOP’s radicalization will be bad for the economy and an American future. The best way to do that is to let them shut down the government. Democrats will work to the last hour trying to compromise with Republicans because they work to keep government open and working for the people. Republicans will wait for the democrats to blink.

Congressional Democrats must keep working with Republicans to avert a shutdown, but they cannot blink. If the Democrats don’t give in, the GOP will have shut down the government to enact a hyper-conservative agenda, and voters may finally realize that Tea-Party-big-business-puppets do not have the common interest of the common citizen at heart.


Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]