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
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.
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.