Granted that this op-ed was written Sept. 30 — the very last day for Congress to do what it was intended to and pass a continuing resolution to keep our government operational — it is entirely possible that by the time you read this on Oct. 4, questions of a government shutdown will already have been solved, but don’t hold your breath.
For those of you who are unaware, unless the continuing resolution is passed, I cannot visit Independence Hall or any other national park or any wildlife refuge or the Smithsonian because they won’t be open. They won’t be open because nearly a million government employees will be asked to not come into work as part of a government shutdown. In addition to those current employees, 1.4 million active-duty military personnel will also experience a pay freeze, but they still go to work. Disabled veterans who are waiting for their disability check for sacrificing themselves in our nation’s glorious military? They aren’t getting those, either.
Do you know who still does get paid, regardless of a government shutdown? The 535 U.S. representatives and senators. Do you know who else gets funded during a shutdown? Organizations like the FBI, CIA, and our voyeuristic friends at the NSA. Now, considering who decides if and when a government shutdown initiates (those 535 representatives and senators), it starts to become clear where priorities are in this debate.
While congressional Republicans would love to insist that the Affordable Care Act is the reason that they cannot, in good conscience, pass this continuing resolution, let’s make one thing crystal clear: It is not their conscience that motivates them to block a law that they not only passed but which also survived Supreme Court scrutiny and was intended to improve the quality of health care in this country. After passing the Farm Bill and another bill to strip away money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the food stamps program), it’s enormously clear where House Republicans stand on the issues of government-supported health and well-being. No, congressional Republicans support a government shutdown for one reason: It screws over the Obama Administration.
Though stated more elegantly, this goal of obstructing and opposing the president and the Democratic Party appears in campaign rhetoric across the country. The Republican Party’s defining mark is its oppositional stance, and while this op-ed is not a critique of American partisanship, it is worth noting here that the failure to avert a government shutdown has everything to do with Republican opposition to funding the Affordable Care Act.
When taking into consideration that members of Congress are waging a verbal war without experiencing any direct side effects, the real effects of a government shutdown become clear. Millions of government workers, active-duty military personnel and disabled veterans are the victims of this budget crisis. Ten days after the shutdown has begun, federal courts will close. If this happens, the guarantee of a “fair and speedy trial” will go out the window, mortgage applications will be paused, and, most ironically of all, gun permits will not be processed. So, in effect, a Republican-backed move to shut down the government will deprive law-abiding citizens from obtaining guns.
But what can we do about this? Well, not much now, but there are a collection of steps that led us to this point. The most important is passing the federal budget. Our legislators wouldn’t be arguing over continuing resolutions (the one we’re dealing with now will only last three months) if they could pass an actual budget. The last actual budget was passed in 2009. In countries that feature similar legislative mechanisms to ours (like the United Kingdom), there are various fail-safes that coerce legislators to do their job or lose it, and yet while the tyrannical nanny-state Brits dissolve their Parliament if a budget is not passed, the “patriotic” Americans reward their legislators with immunity from the effects of a country without a budget.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is entirely possible that by Friday, a continuing resolution will have been passed, keeping the government alive to fight another day, but look around and ask yourself: Is this patch enough? Can we really continue living without a permanent budget, keeping our military service members and veterans on the brink while Washington legislators pad their pockets, not only with their guaranteed salaries but also with their lobbying rewards? If this is not the kind of country you would like to live in, you are not alone; but until you make it clear that passing a budget is a priority, you are just one of many hostages in a broken democracy.
Richard Furstein is the distribution manager at The Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected].