As I type this today marks we are entering the second week of the U.S. government shutting down over demands by Republicans in the House of Representative to defund the Affordable Care Act in order to pass a budget. Put aside the irony of the day we went into shutdown as the exact same day that the website for what's commonly called Obamacare went live (and that several elements of the Act are already in effect) October 1st marked the start of the latest example of governing by crisis, if not chaos. As the debate over the debt ceiling and the chances of the U.S. going into default in a week or so gets heated there are a couple of things to consider.
First up is the question of who is behind the shutdown. The obvious answer is a House of Representatives which controlling party (in this case, the Republicans) have been taken over by Tea Party backed candidates, some of whom even ran on a platform that included a shut down. However, as the week has continued on more of what has gone down behind the scenes has become public.
Outside of the typical plans to push for shutdown emerging shortly after Obama's second term started, it turns out other forces behind the scenes played a part as well. The Conservation Action Project, a coalition managed by the Heritage Foundation and the Council for National Policy, originally floated the idea of tying finding for the ACA to the budget, working with Tea Party politicians to maintain this goal. With backing from right wing think tanks as well as elements related to the Koch Brothers, the push to get to where the government is at now was bubbling under the surface and moving further to the surface as politicians who originally refused to negotiate continued to push their demands as the shutdown neared.
While the GOP claimed the battle over the budget was simply over Obamacare, as the shutdown deadline neared they unveiled a list of 21 demands that included approving the Keystone XL pipeline, Stripping the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases, defunding Planned Parenthood, and removing the employer contraception mandate from the ACA, among other things. In other words, they went from merely wanting to get rid of a law that was ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court (still claiming it’s unconstitutional despite the ruling a couple years back) to basically demanding that a good chunk of the 2012 GOP election platform be enacted by the Obama administration
That the strange coalition between the extremists in conservative Christian culture (a/k/a: the religious right) and their corporatist backers are willing to drive things to a halt over not getting what they want, there was a surprise of sorts. It was reported that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter to House republicans urging a shutdown unless a CR over the budget allowed private employers to not allow contraception coverage in healthcare plans for reasons of religious conscience. Given the Conference’s desire to be viewed as a voice for the hungry, their willingness to force people to remain hungry and not get help unless they get their way on an issue many Americans (including a number of Catholics) disagree with them on is disgusting to say the least.
Which leads us to the demands themselves? Were they really expecting the Obama administration to cave on the ACA in order to pass a budget for the next year? Yes, Obama had a dirty habit of seeking common ground way more often than he should’ve, but after winning re-election, it should’ve been obvious to the Republicans that their platform wasn’t desired by the majority who voted. However, the GOP and their tea party/corporatist base still acted as if they had control of everything and that Obama still wasn’t really elected by the people. With the final list of demands they had to be thinking either one of two things. One, they’re trying to convince their base that Obama will give the GOP their platform, despite being the minority party in the Senate and not having the White House. Or, more likely, they knew damn well Obama wouldn’t cave on this and finally would draw a line in the sand; thus leading to a shutdown. It’s possible that it’s a combination of the two but they had to have known this would happen.
This leads us to the upcoming debt ceiling battle next week in hopes of avoiding going into default. While the Obama administration finally realized that extreme compromising for the purpose of keeping things functioning may only lead to more demands from the GOP and their tea party backers that leads to constant crisis (including the 21 demands mentioned earlier), what happens here is anybody’s guess.