Domestic Politics: Shutdown, Showdown and Who Pays The Price (With Videos!)

A Washingtonian Stand-off.

A Washingtonian Stand-off.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Speaker Boehner and Congressman Cantor.

     Ah, Sunday. It’s a day filled with things like church, football, household chores and relaxation. There is however, an undercurrent of anxiety that has punctuated the last few Sundays on the calendar, at least for some. As we transit into week three of the government shutdown, its effects and implications are beginning to be noticed by more and more Americans. The political landscape has become further divided, and tempers are running a bit higher among both participants on Capitol Hill and those watching from the sidelines.

     As the increasing toll of the impasse in our nation’s capital becomes more apparent, one is led to wonder; just who is to blame for this quagmire? What factors contributed to this situation, and how did we get here? Who and what are being affected by the shutdown? My fine, young readers, please allow me to present a few facts and figures that may help answer these questions, starting with…

What Led Up To The Shutdown – A Tale of Two Houses

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)

Charlie Rangel (D-NY)

     On September 17th, 2009, Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a bill on the floor of the then-Democrat-controlled House, initially entitled, “Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009.” This bill (the initial HR 3590 (PDF)) was considered by the Ways and Means committee, and subsequently passed the House by a 416-0 vote. (1) In other words, this bill contained language so “warm and fuzzy,” that even Tea Party-affiliated Republican representatives could get behind it! So the bill proceeded, like all bills usually do, to the Senate. The Senate, in turn, gutted Rangel’s existing bill, and filled the container with the rough language that would eventually become PPACA. This new bill, rechristened as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” (PDF) was voted on and passed by a slim majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate on December 24th, 2009, and this “Christmas present” was sent back to the House. (2)

     I think it would be fair to say that at this point in the tale, the House Republicans were feeling a bit dyspeptic over what they considered a “bamboozling.” Who can forget the dramatic diatribe of Ohio representative John Boehner, during the final hours of the House’s consideration of HR 3590;

     Regardless, the bill was passed by the House on March 21st, 2010, by a narrow 219-212 vote, mostly along party lines. (3) (It should be noted that 34 House Democrats also voted against the passage of PPACA at the time.) It was during this time, that the seeds of the current shutdown were first planted in the political soils of the capital.

     In the fall of 2010, several Democrats lost seats in the House to Republicans, and as a result, John Boehner, the distinguished gentleman from Ohio, was minted as the 61st Speaker of a now-Republican-controlled House of Representatives, on January 5th, 2011. The balance of power…had shifted. Since then, GOP pols have stated, sometimes openly, that they would do whatever they could to kill this “bane of their existence,” this monster, nicknamed “Obama-Care,” up to and including, if necessary, forcing a government shutdown.

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

Eric Cantor (R-VA)

     Flash forward to the fall of 2013. The GOP-controlled house now found itself in “planning mode” for two upcoming events; the end of FY-2013, and the start of open enrollment in the new health care exchanges of PPACA, both of which would be happening at the same time, October 1st. At some point, perhaps even as far back as January of 2011, a plan was hatched by the GOP leadership, to force the hand of the President and Democrats to make concessions that would either defund or delay the implementation of PPACA, by means of the threat of shutting down the government. (4)

     On September 20th of this year, House Republicans began their offensive in earnest, by inserting language into House Joint Resolution 59, the “Continuing Appropriations Resolution,” that would rob PPACA of all federal funding;

SEC. 137. (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any
22 other provision of law, no Federal funds shall be made
23 available to carry out any provisions of the Patient Protec
24 tion and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148) or
25 title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and
1 Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (Public Law 111–
2 152), or of the amendments made by either such Act.

     Having “engrossed and passed” this altered version of the continuing resolution, the House sent it back to the Senate, and so began a series of back-and-forth volleys between the two houses of congress; the Senate rejecting the House changes and sending a “clean CR” back to the House, and the House inserting the language to defund or cripple PPACA, and sending it back to the Senate. Round and round they went, right up to the midnight, September 30th deadline for passing the CR. With one final, evening push of the altered bill, (5) and its subsequent tabling by the Senate, (6) the “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013” was fait accompli.

     Now, there’s a catch to this story, my fine young readers! In the early morning (01:10 A.M.) hours of October 1st, another House Resolution, HR 368, was passed by the House. (7) It contained the following language:

SEC. 2. Any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII
relating to House Joint Resolution 59 may be offered only by
the Majority Leader or his designee.

     What this basically means, is that only Eric Cantor (R-VA) or whoever he picks as his designee, can put forth a motion that would adopt a clean version of the CR, and end the shutdown. In the following video clip, House Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) draws attention to this change in established House rules, as they apply to HJ Res 59:

Government Functions Grind To A Halt – The Rising Toll

     During the past two weeks, the news reports have been replete with stories of national parks being closed, memorials being barricaded, offices being shuttered and thousands of federal employees being furloughed, but that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The government shutdown is also having a “trickle-down” effect on other industries and recreational activities, such as:

  • Private Security companies – Cannot run federal background checks on prospective employees, due to the closure of those offices.
  • Local lakes – Hensley Lake in the Central California foothills, which is NOT a national park, but run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been closed. Other state lakes have also met this fate during the current shutdown.
  • Deadliest Catch – Captain Keith Colburn testified before the Senate on Friday, regarding the shutdown’s impact on fisheries in the Pacific Northwest;

     This week will see the second deadline in this drama; on Thursday, our government will “hit the debt ceiling,” meaning that unless a deal is reached on the passage of any bill that would continue to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, we will automatically default on our debts, which will impact the economies of other nations worldwide. Applying their own typical spin, China’s Xinhua news published an op/ed this morning, commenting on this situation while calling for a more “de-Americanized” world. (8)

     Ladies and Gentlemen, I will leave it to you to decide who bears the ultimate blame for the mess we’re in, and to opine on how we might extricate ourselves from it.

__________________________________________________

For another interesting view of this ongoing imbroglio, please see the following article by the fine folks at Liberal America:

Republican Shutdown 101: The Definitive Guide,” by Liberal America writer Amanda Fleming.

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Crime and Justice: Playing The Blame Game

Who's to blame?

Who’s to blame?

“Only a lad  (You really can’t blame him)
Only a lad  (Society made him)
Only a lad  (He’s our responsibility)

Only a lad  (He really couldn’t help it)
Only a lad  (He didn’t want to do it)
Only a lad  (He’s underprivileged and abused,
Perhaps a little bit confused…)”

(Oingo Boingo, “Only a Lad” c1981 A&M Records)

     I’m writing this article as a follow-up to the last one, only because I can’t believe that we’re still having this discussion. It’s been over 30 years since Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo broached the subject in their 1981 release, “Only a Lad”. At around the same time, then president Ronald Reagan opined that as Americans, we needed to “reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.” It seems as though we (as a nation) are not unlike that dysfunctional family down the street, the one that has absolutely no solid communication skills. I mean, if we haven’t settled this argument in the past three decades, we haven’t been communicating in a meaningful way about it, have we?

     So, who is to blame when things like last Friday’s shooting take place? Do we place the onus squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, or do we expand the recriminations to encompass vast sectors, political groups and ideologies within our society? I guess it all depends on who you ask. As evinced by the previous post, the religious right will tell you that the decline of morals in society, or that “taking God out of our schools” is to blame. On the other hand, my first instinct is to lay the blame on the individual, as suggested by Reagan.

     You know, the fundies may however, have a valid point as well. It does seem like we are witnessing, and have been since at least the 60’s if not before then, an overall decline in…shall we say, the “scruples” of society at large. I can’t recall that criminals were as willing back in the decades preceding the 90’s, to commit crimes such as robbery and murder in churches, as they are these days. Indeed, there seems to be an overall lack of respect for boundaries that were once held as sacrosanct, even by the lowest of the low. Might that be a part of society’s responsibility in these instances of violent crime?

     Violent crime targeting schools is nothing new, my fine young readers. As early as 1764 in fact, there has been violence claiming the lives of children and teachers during school hours and on school premises in America. Even so, that doesn’t lessen the impact every time it happens, and immediately following each instance the grief often gives way to recrimination. Lines get drawn, policy gets debated, and tempers flare. Once the dust settles, we’re no better off than we were before the incident occurred, I’m afraid.

     Within the context of societal responsibility, we’re already witnessing increased debate over gun control in America. Some on the right are even suggesting turning our schools into heavily armed bastions of security, in order to deter any would-be shooter. On the opposite side of the debate, some are calling for a complete ban on firearms, citing instances where other countries have done so, and experienced a drastic decrease in gun-related crimes. Somewhere in between these diametrically opposed viewpoints, lies the vast majority of citizens who are either apathetic to the entire situation, or are leaving it up to the government to solve the problem…which unfortunately may never happen.

     Who do we blame? Do we blame ourselves as a society for allowing prison time to lose its sting, and become more like an “all expenses paid vacation getaway”? Do we blame our government for not taking definitive action with regard to gun control? Do we blame certain political factions within our nation for weakening and / or inhibiting stiffer gun control laws? Do we blame parents, for not raising their children properly? Do we blame the health care industry, for not having better mental health programs in place? Do we blame the perpetrator? One thing is for damned sure…there always seems to be entirely too much finger pointing, and too many people with fingers to point, and not nearly enough rational discourse going on.

     I’ll leave you all with this little “fill-a-bit” of wisdom; be careful when you point the finger at someone, because there are three fingers on that same hand, pointing back at you.