The federal government has taken a break, with national parks and other services shutting down in a showdown over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.” House Republicans are refusing to vote to fund the health insurance law; President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats won’t pass a budget that doesn’t include that money. Neither side appears willing to back down.
Can anything good come from the shutdown? Are Americans doomed to eternal gridlock in their governance? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
MATHIS: From a Democratic perspective, one great thing is already happening as a result of the shutdown: Americans are realizing that tea party Republicans, who so ostentatiously proclaim their fealty to the Founders, are dripping with hypocrisy.
Consider: Only a few dozen House Republicans are responsible for this shutdown — they amount to less than 10 percent of the total membership of the House of Representatives. Remember, too: The Founders may have loved checks and balances, but they despised the notion that such a small minority might gum up the governmental works.
Here’s Alexander Hamilton, writing in The Federalist Papers, No. 22: “To give a minority a negative upon the majority ... is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. ... (I)ts real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junto to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”
This tyranny of the minority, Hamilton wrote, would result in “tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.” Sound familiar? James Madison agreed, later writing in The Federalist Papers, No. 58, that by letting a minority faction run rogue, “the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.” Madison wrote that the minority faction would be prone “to extort unreasonable indulgences.”
Which is where we stand.
The House of Representatives passed Obamacare. So did the Senate. The president signed it. The Supreme Court approved its legality. The president then won re-election when enactment of Obamacare was a top issue. At every corner, the law has passed democratic and constitutional muster. If House Republicans can win a repeal vote on the law, let them.
They can’t. So they’ve taken the government hostage. It’s an act of hypocrisy and contempt — for democratic norms, for the vision of the Founders and for the wishes of the majority of their fellow citizens.
BOYCHUK: It’s great to see liberals take the Founders’ views seriously. But we don’t need to look back 224 years to recognize how much Obama and congressional Democrats take Americans for a bunch of saps.
The federal government has shut down 18 times since 1976 — including several times when Democrats ran both houses of Congress and the White House. Undivided government is no panacea.
You’ve heard of the Washington Monument strategy? It’s an old political trick. Congress threatens budget cuts, and an agency — the National Park Service is the classic example — threatens to close a popular attraction first.
Turns out, the Washington Monument was closed before this week for repairs. So officials spent money and manpower they supposedly don’t have to barricade most of the National Mall, including popular memorials. In response, a group of World War II veterans shoved the barricades aside and visited the memorial built in their honor, despite the threat of arrest — if you could imagine such a scene.
But the spectacle on the Mall was nothing compared to the one on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., couldn’t believe CNN’s Dana Bash would question why Senate Democrats refuse to consider piecemeal funding bills.
If it’s so horrible that cancer-stricken kids are being denied access to clinical trials, then simply fund the National Institutes of Health — as a bipartisan majority of the House agreed to do this week.
“Why would we want to do that?” Reid replied. “I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own.” But cancer isn’t one.
Reid’s response highlights how much of this “crisis” is mere political posturing. Even the term “government shutdown” is misleading.
Roughly 80 percent of federal employees are still working. But at some agencies, such as the Education Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, between 90 and 95 percent of workers have been furloughed as “nonessential personnel.”
It’s a shame those people have to be pawns in a political game. But the shutdown should lead Americans to wonder if so many federal employees are “nonessential,” perhaps they would be better off in the private sector.