U.S. government on Cruz control

The United States government has shut down for the first time in 17 years. A small group of Republicans absolutely opposed to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the signature legislative achievement of President Barack Obama’s first term in office, believe that they can force the president to abandon or delay launch of the plan, and they are willing to shut down the government to accomplish that objective.

It is an anti-democratic spectacle unworthy of the U.S., yet one that looks set to drag on for some time.

Opposition to the ACA has mounted over time. Despite more than a year of debate, the passage of the bill by both houses of Congress and its approval by the Supreme Court, a hard core of GOP members refuse to accept its legitimacy. For them, it is socialism, the destroyer of the U.S. health care system, the bankrupter of the U.S. economy, or another entitlement that will destroy the moral fiber of the American people.

Perhaps most worrying for them is the fear that “Obamacare,” as it pejoratively referred to, will work and by the time Americans go to the polls next year for midterm elections, they will have accepted and even begun to appreciate the program. This hard core of Republicans will do anything within their power to prevent the ACA from coming into effect and undermining their electoral prospects in the 2014 election, when they hope to repeal the law outright after winning a majority in both houses of Congress.

Both Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Democrat, have refused to bend to GOP demands for a delay. Instead, they demand a “clean Continuing Resolution” — a bill to fund the government that has no conditions attached. The absence of the two houses of Congress to reach an agreement means that the government has shut down.

The irony of this stalemate is that substantial numbers of Republicans in the House of Representatives — perhaps even a majority — are prepared to back a clean CR, but they fear a backlash from the right wing of their party if they were to do so, a threat that would take the form of a challenger from the right in the GOP primary for next year’s election. As a result, a hard core of GOP legislators, most of them members of the tea party and elected in districts that are dominated by extremely conservative voters, control the House of Representatives.

The ostensible leader of this stalwart band is Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz. A fiery orator, Mr. Cruz has made a name for himself as the representative of the tea party. He has been reaching out to House GOP members in an attempt to stiffen wobbly Republican spines, an unprecedented step and one that has earned him the enmity of moderate Republicans in the House and the Senate. Mr. Cruz is indifferent to that ill will: His eyes are on the 2016 presidential race.

The question is how long the shutdown will last, which is likely to depend on who the public blames for the stalemate. Thus far, and as occurred in the only previous shutdown 17 years ago, the GOP appears to be the guilty party. In an attempt to lighten the damage, the House of Representatives has approved several bills that fund the most popular parts of the government. The Senate has rejected them all.

The shutdown is painful. While “essential” services such as the military, food inspectors, law enforcement and social security checks continue to be provided, “nonessential” services such as supplementary food assistance, health programs, housing aid, environmental and financial regulators will be halted. Some 800,000 government workers will stay at home.

If this shutdown lasts as long as the last one — 21 days — it could cost the U.S. economy $55 billion.

More troubling still is the fear that this stalemate could drag on and prevent the Congress from agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. In a few weeks, the government will be obliged to borrow more money to pay for bills it has already accrued pursuant to budgets it has had approved. Here, too, the opponents of ACA smell opportunity. They believe that they can make increasing the debt ceiling — again, to be clear, to pay for spending that was previously approved by Congress — conditional on suspension of the health bill. This game of legislative chicken could ruin the global economy as U.S. debts become suspect.

The ultimate problem is the failure of a hard core of the Republican right to accept the rules of democracy. The ACA has been extensively debated, adjudicated and found both legal and to represent the will of the majority of the American people. The ACA was at the center of the 2012 presidential campaign; GOP candidate Mitt Romney pledged to revoke the bill as his first act as president. He lost the election. Yet a hardy band of holdouts now believes that the legislative process and the electoral results are irrelevant.

To get their way, they are prepared to paralyze the U.S. government, to cripple its creditworthiness and to embrace a campaign of calumny and outright distortion that threatens to discredit democracy itself. The U.S. deserves better than this.

  • Jeffrey

    You give Cruz far too much credit for the current budget impasse. His 15-minutes are just about up, alleged presidential ambitions notwithstanding. Beohner my not be in charge of the House, but Cruz is nothing but a foot-in-mouth junior senator from a red state trending blue.

    This is very much 1996 redux and Republican recalcitrance is doing nothing but pushing them that closer to irrelevance. More votes have been cast for Democratic congressional candidates in the last three House elections. Gerrymandered districts are the only thing keeping two to three dozen House seats Republican. Once they blink, and they will, many of them, like Gingrich and his gang before them, will find themselves out of office in 2014.

    • citizen12345

      Most of your government hand out seeking, social agenda blinded, liberal-minded friends don’t even know there is such a thing as a midterm election. You’re going to see what you saw in 2010. Obama are will be gone before Hillary gets a chance to run.

      • gnirol

        I believe in Tinker Bell like you believe the GOP will gain in 2014. Not a stitch of evidence here. (Dems are up by 9% in the latest generic congressional ballot poll, which even with GOP gerrymandering, would lead to about a 20-seat Dem pickup in the House), just a wish list. Beliefs, not facts. Well, anyone is entitled to his/her wishes. I wish for a Mercedes and a chauffeur to drive me around.

  • citizen12345

    You fail to mention that every poll that has ever been taken on the Affordable Care Act ACA shows that the majority of Americans do not want it. It was unilaterally passed after an election where Americans wanted someone to blame for the huge hit their retirement plans just took. They blamed the Republican president. Also, the democratic vote that elected those who passed the bill is composed of growing segments that vote democratic for their own unique agenda which has nothing to do with ACA. I’m speaking of women’s rights, abortion, gay rights, amnesty for illegal Hispanics, and government handouts.

    Look for another ousting of democratic elected officials in the coming midterm election.

    Your article could also be written as “Obama vows to send US into default rather than delay implementation of ACA as offered by Republican majority in Congress – likely because Congress will defund or repeal ACA if it gets delayed beyond the next midterm election, effectively squashing any sort of lasting legacy and listing his presidency among the most ineffective in the nation’s history.”

    • gnirol

      The first assertion above is not true. People support the ACA by 9% more than “Obamacare”. In other words, 10-15 million American adults think that “Obamacare” and the ACA are different things. They have obstinate opinions about issues based on invalid information. They like many of the provisions of the ACA, and as the article points out, it was passed into law the normal way. What they dislike is that the president supported it, as if that disqualifies any idea. I think the Dems. ought to play the GOP game. Want to end the shutdown and avert debt default? OK, we’ll talk but the first thing Republicans have to do is provide the votes in the House to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for people earning between $250,000 and $400,000, a concession the Dems already made. We Dems would like to revisit that immoral and mistaken decision. If the GOP strategy makes sense, so does that.
      What they are against is anything connected to the president. They hate him. You can speculate why that might be. They will probably boo him on TV when he proclaims Thanksgiving Day next month. Govt of laws not men. Just an old fairy tale in America today.

    • Toolonggone

      It is House GOP who threatened the Congress for shutdown–not once, but three times at least since 2011. This time, Ted Cruz made a stink a couple of weeks ago and pleaded the Republicans to frustrate the implementation of Obamacare–with the hope of its demise. It was actually Cruz who pushed for defunding ACA/Obamacare, and offered an alternative bill which turned out to be far less ineffective. Look which received more blame from the public. It’s GOP. Even Republican friendly Fox News polls showed 59% of people disapproved them for this shutdown. Yep, Cruz made the noise and blew it off really bad.

      Funny, this man was born in Canada. And he now preaches anti-national healthcare system which his birth country proudly offers to its citizens.

  • Zapedowski

    The post below this one, from citizen12345 is a great example of the “extremely conservative voter” who is driving this debacle. Thank you, citizen, for demonstrating what this article is talking about.

  • Toolonggone

    The title should be Cruz not in cruise control. He got the spotlight and asked his fellows to follow his ideas—and bang! He screwed himself by receiving a lot of criticism from both senior GOP Senates and some House members. He’s definitely not the one who can control his party.

    It’s true that ACA is pretty much controversial, and Americans are divided on the bill. Sure I see many people opposing to the bill, but not the same reason Republicans have been making for many years; public option doesn’t work, so cut Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans totally ignore the fact that small and mid-size businesses are already at disadvantage in competing with big health industries–due to America for-profit business principle. It doesn´t make sense because the market apparently works in favor of big companies, and big companies are not gonna collaborate with small to mid size businesses for winning the competition in the market.

    The main problem with ACA is not the national government stealing clients from private insurance companies. It’s giving a small number of big health industries incentives to force many people to cover at expensive costs for many years. That leaves out millions of people who are relying on Medicare and Medicaid that is reeling from random budget cuts, and keeps millions of uninsured uninsured for unable to pay high premium costs.