The U.S. government is currently shutdown for the first time in 17 years. I wish I could say that I was disheartened by the actions of elected officials unable to fulfill their basic constitutional duties. Having seen this movie during the Clinton years, however, I am well aware of the recalcitrance that can prevent a compromise, even as the public expresses its disapproval.
The shutdown of 1995 and 1996 was fueled by disagreements between president Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans who opposed him on funding Medicare, education and the environment. It was led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to curb the growth of spending in the federal budget.
It lasted a total of 28 days and created a significant dent in the public perception of the GOP once people started missing their federal grant funding for scientific research and access to national parks. The GOP was viewed as a petty, small-minded party, more concerned with ideology than the best interests of its constituents.
Ultimately, Clinton won the war of attrition and the GOP paid a price for the maneuver.
Now, with this latest GOP-inspired shutdown of the government, the Republicans find themselves on even shakier ground than '95.
The reason for the shutdown is the Republicans' desire to have the full implementation of Affordable Care Act or Obamacare delayed for a year.
The GOP have called the law "unconstitutional" ( a ridiculous charge given the fact that the largely conservative Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality a year ago), "the worst law ever passed in the United States" (yeah, tell that to blacks in Mississippi when the Jim Crow laws were still in effect), and an "affront to the principles of free enterprise and free government that out forefathers fought for" (ignoring the fact that since most Americans have access to health care currently, few will be impacted by the law). Meanwhile, those in need of health insurance can enter private exchanges and choose the policy they want (This solution is about as market-driven as possible).
Now I certainly am not going to defend Obamacare on all points. The entire plan will fail if younger, healthier people choose not to buy insurance and there are still bugs in the system regarding the on-line exchanges.
But for the GOP to express its discontent in a fashion more suited to a 9-year-old who didn't get the video game he wanted for Christmas, it is proving not only to be tone-deaf to the still-felt economic problems throughout the country, but apparently unaware of what actually happens when a law is passed.
"The Democrats refuse to engage with us about Obamacare so we can find a compromise," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sounding a lot like a defense attorney who wants to present new evidence in support of his client after the client has already found a new lawyer.
The sheer meaninglessness of the entire debacle is a reminder that unlike the beloved "free market" that the GOP loves so much, when they don't do their jobs, they don't pay a penalty, especially when they are incumbents in heavily right-leaning districts.
Just a few of the consequences of the shutdown across the country, according to Huffington Post include:
In Connecticut, 13 Head Start programs serving 320 children have been shut down.
In Arkansas, 85,000 meals for children are endangered because of cuts to nutritional programs like Women Infants and Children (WIC).
In Illinois, 2,500 civilian employees at the Great Lakes Naval Station were furloughed, turning over their duties to active-duty sailors and going home.
No one says Republicans don't have a right to disapprove of existing legislation. But by forcing the doors of government to close as a means of expressing their views, they are showing a level of self-indulgent self-righteousness that may lead to a greater level of partisan polarization than already exists.
Even the 1996 Republican House knew when to quit.