The Government Shutdown Blues

This week, the U.S. government shut down for the first time in 17 years, thanks to intransigent House Republicans who refused to pass a budget unless it included provisions to gut or delay the Affordable Care Act. Ironically, this is the same day that the new health insurance exchanges opened for business, since they’re funded by mandatory spending that’s not part of the budget process.

The threat of a government shutdown was one of the last cards played by a political party that’s tried absolutely everything in their power to obstruct Obamacare. They originally tried to block it in the Senate with a filibuster, but a supermajority voted to proceed to an up-or-down vote. Not a single Republican in Congress voted for it, but it passed in spite of them. They took their case to the Supreme Court, which upheld it. They ran the last presidential election as a referendum on repealing it, and lost decisively.

As the law takes effect, red states have refused to help set up the exchanges where people can buy insurance, and some have passed nuisance regulations to obstruct the “navigators” who help people understand the new market. Going even further into the theater of the absurd, deep-pocketed groups like the Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation are running an advertising blitz trying to persuade people not to sign up for the insurance they’re now able to purchase. (One ad implied that buying subsidized health insurance through an exchange is like being raped by the government. This, from the party of mandatory medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds.)

And now we’re in the midst of of a government shutdown. The Republicans have lost at every possible step of the normal political process – losing in Congress, losing in the courts, losing in the popular vote – but rather than accept defeat, they’re trying to make the country ungovernable if their demands aren’t met. This is pure blackmail, no different than any other ransom demand from a hostage taker.

There’s only one possible reason they’re so absolutist in their resistance to Obamacare: not because they think it’s going to fail, but because they believe it’s going to succeed. If they really believed that the law would be a huge failure, they could just sit back, wait for it to collapse under its own unpopularity, and then gloat and say “we told you so”. The fact that they’re fighting so tenaciously implies that they’re worried people are going to like it, and they know that if it’s a success, their original opposition will haunt them. They chose to redouble their opposition, trying to prevent voters from getting a chance to make up their own minds about it.

The GOP doesn’t even have the thin excuse of having an alternative to propose, because Obamacare is the alternative. Its basic structure was originally a conservative idea, conceived of by groups like the Heritage Foundation and proposed by a Republican Congress in the 1990s as their alternative to Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan. As we liberals never tire of pointing out, it’s also essentially identical to the plan enacted in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. But rather than declare victory because the Democrats passed what was originally a conservative plan – which, truthfully, they would’ve had every right to do – they’ve become fanatical opponents of their own idea, a bizarre result of the GOP’s steady rightward slide and its rigid determination to deny a Democratic president any major domestic achievement.

It’s hard to see where this is going to end. Most of the madness is coming from Republicans who represent deep-red, heavily gerrymandered districts, drawn so that it’s almost impossible for them to lose except to a challenger who’s even more conservative. It’s possible that the blowback of a government shutdown will hurt them, but I don’t think it’s likely. We’ve already seen that Republicans can cast votes that kick their own constituents in the teeth and pay no penalty, just as long as they make the right noises about culture-war issues. In the same way, their desire to make Obama fail is so strong that they’re willing to wreck the country in the bargain, and deny millions of people access to medical care they’ve long lacked. What else can we call this, other than profoundly evil?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • sdfgsdfg

    Yes, Obamacare, if fully implemented, will “succeed” in forcing one group of people to pay for another group of people’s healthcare costs, as well as succeed in costing billions of dollars just to pay for all its overheard.

    And of course all of the people who find that they get “free” healthcare paid for by others will LIKE it, and it will make them happy in the short term. But eventually it’s cost will either rise to insane proportions, or people will find themselves on waitlists for care. If healthcare providers get paid well, costs will go up. If healthcare providers are force to accept lower pay, there will be less healthcare providers.

    Market forces can only be delayed, they cannot be stopped.

  • Tova Rischi

    Undemocratic. Fascist. Spiteful. Just three alternatives.

  • Fractal Heretic

    Like Rachel Maddow said, “If you don’t want government to work, then government not working proves your point. And so, you probably shouldn’t be trusted with the government.” Putting republicans in charge of the government is like going to a doctor whose goal is to prove that medicine doesn’t work.

  • Space Blizzard

    Over the years of Obama’s presidency it’s become more and more apparent that hardline Republicans take a strange attitude whereby democracy is a fine and good thing, but only so long as it brings about the results they want. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of them are secretly in favour of throwing the whole thing out and establishing a one-party system where they don’t have let anyone else into the treehouse to spoil their fun.

  • GCT

    Almost every (almost?) other industrialized nation in the world has implemented universal healthcare. Are you really claiming that we can’t do it here? Your concern for the poor, put-upon insurance companies is duly noted.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    No facts. No statistics. No examples. Just the usual vague ideological BS from the ACA opponents that pretends that no other country, ever, has implemented a program like this before. It’s no different from the cretins still screaming about how legalized same-sex marriage will end with pastors going to prison.

  • DavidMHart

    Thing is, healthcare isn’t something like your choice of sports goods, or flavour of ice cream, or choice ot TV channel, that you can fairly let people opt whether they want to buy or not. Health problems strike more-or-less at random, and their severity varies wildly. We have a choice between a world in which everyone contributes to a common pool, and takes treatment as they need, or a world in which some people suffer and die because of health problems that weren’t their fault, and which they couldn’t afford to treat. The first system may be inefficient, but the second is inhumane.

    And if it is such a terrible idea, how come pretty much every other developed country has some sort of nationalized healthcare? If it were disastrous, they’d have got rid of them by now.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    But eventually it’s cost will either rise to insane proportions, or people will find themselves on waitlists for care. If healthcare providers get paid well, costs will go up. If healthcare providers are force to accept lower pay, there will be less healthcare providers.

    What does the ACA have to do with any of this? Do you think people don’t have to wait for procedures now? Do you think that insurance companies pay healthcare providers whatever they feel like charging now? The ACA effectively increases the pool of potential healthcare consumers. Show me a business that has ever wailed with alarm at the prospect of gaining millions of new customers. There’s a reason why insurance company stocks shot up when the ACA passed.

    I don’t understand why people who are so grossly ignorant of history and markets, and who have apparently never been to a doctor or dealt with an insurance company, think we should take their predictions of disaster seriously.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    A permanent Republican majority was one of Karl Rove’s explicit goals as far back as 2005 at least.

  • Azkyroth


  • mel897

    Which sidesteps the actual issue at hand. The ACA is aready a compromise modeled after a Republican proposal that was passed into law. An election was fought on the issue and it passed scrutiny by SCOTUS. And now the Republicans are whining that the Democrats won’t compromise on the compromise after it’s a fait accompli. It’s bizarre and ridiculous.

  • mel897

    Seems to me that they did… in Massachusetts!

  • Adam Lee

    And for some of them it’s not even very secret.

  • Pattrsn

    “Market forces can only be delayed, they cannot be stopped.”

    Don’t be silly

  • smrnda

    You understand that in nations with socialized medicine, health care costs per individual are *LESS* than the US, with better results? But let’s not let reality get in the way.

    One group of people (the wealthy) effectively force the rest of the population to work for them by controlling resource allocation. A lot of wealth transfers are the transfer of wealth generates by workers (who often do not have health care) to people who make money from passive ownership. Yes, they’re being forced to pay for other people’s health care, but given the power they get to wield over others, I think that’s totally fair.

    There’s plenty of $$, just America has been functioning as a tax haven for rich people who not only get to exploit the rest of the population, but get o avoid paying taxes at the same rates as everyone else. On overhead, insurance companies are profit making concerns – of course they’ll have more overhead than a government program, and they’ll also be skimming $$$ that could go to health care to profit.

  • Ani J. Sharmin

    Thing is, healthcare isn’t something like your choice of sports goods, or flavour of ice cream, or choice ot TV channel, that you can fairly let people opt whether they want to buy or not.

    It baffles me how many people fail to understand this. I’ve seen all kinds of analogies in which someone says that they shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s healthcare, just like they don’t have to pay for other people’s x, where x is something that doesn’t mean the difference between life and death and is a luxury or optional item. It’s a massive misunderstanding of healthcare.

    There can be two people who have the same income, dependents, bills, etc. but one needs more medical care. Medications, for example, can range from a couple of dollars a month to hundreds of dollars a month. (Or even more, for certain items. And that’s leaving out other costs, like hospital admissions, procedures, etc.) Someone who has the good fortune to be healthy, and who maybe needed some amoxicillin at one point or another, isn’t in the same situation as someone who has to spends hundreds of dollars a month on chronic medications. And if the first person were to just look at their own situation and call other people lazy for not being able to afford healthcare … that’s just cruel.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for making that point. I know this thinking is bullshit since I’ve had health problems my whole life – epilepsy, psychiatric problems (very severe though managed well the last 5 years or so) and vision problems. I totally cannot survive without lots of medical attention, and it’s not a *consumer choice* like deciding to buy more expensive food or a new video game.

    We also don’t leave law enforcement, national defense, fire fighting etc. to ‘the market’ since the cost of a market failure would be huge.

  • Ani J. Sharmin

    Personally, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be alive today if not for modern medicine and access to that medical care.

    One of things I remember from my previous job and education is realizing how much socioeconomic issues affect people’s access to healthcare. Of course, I already knew this, and I already believed in increasing access to healthcare. However, it’s one thing to know it hypothetically. It’s another thing to see the patients. To see one patient pay $10 for Drug A while another patient has to pay $100 for Drug B. To see people worry when their insurance claim doesn’t go through and the cash price is in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. To see people pick up 5-10 medications for themselves or an elderly parent. There are charity organizations and discounts available of course, but they can’t help everyone. There has to be some sort of universal system, and I think healthcare should be considered a right.