The government shutdown: A retrospective

By Julian del Prado

Now that the government has reopened, we can all rest easier knowing that the Affordable Care Act will only be scrutinized once it has been put into effect. Looking back on the actions taken by the Senate and by the House of Representatives, two things were made clear. Calls by the House of Representatives for negotiation meant nothing, and calls for compromise within the Democratic Party can be tossed aside by a majority. Although Republicans have taken the brunt of blame for the shutdown in a majority of polls, looking at the process step by step paints a very different picture.

Brian Herzog/Flickr

A stubborn Republican party allowed the government to shut down when their demands weren’t met. The initial debate over defunding portions of the Affordable Care Act, however, ended after one week of debate, when the Republicans changed their demands significantly. The new proposed legislation delayed implementation of the health care law for a year, and allowed employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage. The Senate immediately shut this legislation down in the face of the shutdown, with Harry Reid proclaiming that “any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. Dead.” House Republicans, many of whom were voted in to replace the Congresspersons who passed the bill, provided increasingly meager provisions to the bill.

These provisions included the removal of insurance subsidies for lawmakers and a medical device tax. Additionally, the individual mandate that requires most citizens to be insured would be delayed for one year. The shutdown immediately followed the Senate’s rejection of the House’s proposed spending bill.

The House voted to call a conference with the Senate an hour after the deadline for the shutdown, but was rejected immediately the following morning. This shutdown had a devastating effect, and it is reasonable to think that Republicans were trying to use this slowdown of the government as political leverage. The record shows, however, that the House unanimously passed several necessary spending bills financing back pay to federal workers, and funding national parks and government agencies. Amazingly, the Senate and President chose not to act on any of these proposed spending bills, tabling the proposals until House Republicans approved the original spending bill. These leaders were then brazen enough to go out in a public forum and call their fellows stubborn.

In an inspiring move, President Obama threatened to veto continued payment of essential federal workers. These workers continued unpaid and secure that they would get House-backed back pay. President Obama, however, chose not to veto a bill restoring death benefits to military families or for the Federal Aviation Administration. Democrats showed further “leadership” when they told House Republicans that they wouldn’t extend the debt ceiling temporarily if it meant negotiation with the House. Furthermore, the only legislation that received bipartisan support was created by Susan Collins, a Republican. Her bill would have ended the shutdown, lifted the debt ceiling and delayed taxes on medical devices. Unfortunately, the bipartisan bill maintained sequestration cuts, opting to give more flexibility on their administration instead of reducing them. Harry Reid rejected the proposal, and the rest is history.

Commentators like Jon Stewart can rant that “It’s a law” is a good enough explanation for shutting down debate over the Affordable Care Act. The fact of the matter, however, is that the House of Representatives has shown the most capacity for restraint and compromise this time around. Hopefully, there will be meaningful debate among the branches of government in the future, but current leadership in the White House and Senate will not be the ones to start it.

Julian del Prado is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].