With Washington polarized into paralysis, most Americans ask why our elected politicians can not resolve the crisis which has closed the government and threatens our nation’s economy. Reasonable people should be able to find common ground and compromise–unless the crisis has evolved so that there is no common ground. Republicans have offered a series of “compromises” which they claim would resolve the crisis if the Democrats would simply negotiate. These “compromises,” however, are designed to eliminate or severely weaken the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and can not be seen as “common ground” by Democrats.
Congressional Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act which was signed by the President and vetted by the Supreme Court. For over two centuries this has been the democratic process to pass laws in the US. Opponents of a law can try to defeat that law in Congress, try to amend it, repeal it, pass other laws to weaken it, or attempt to reduce funding through Congressional votes. If they fail, they can work to win later elections with the goal of effecting a future reversal or mitigation of the law.
Republicans have failed to block the ACA through conventional Constitutional methods and now have resorted to extortion by demanding that Congress delay, eliminate, defund, or critically weaken the law or they will not pass a bill to fund the government. Many people fear that the Republicans will threaten to block any increase in the debt ceiling, propelling the nation into a cataclysmic national default. Republicans have recently outlined a “compromise” proposing that they will fund the government if the individual mandate is delayed. The individual mandate is the law requiring most people to buy health insurance if it is not provided by their employer. What the Republicans do not reveal (and Democrats have been ineffective in communicating) is that without the individual mandate, the ACA can not be successful. The ACA, like its prototype Gov. Romney’s Massachusetts health insurance plan, depends for financing on the funds generated by the individual mandate, the medical device tax, and the tax on “cadillac health insurance” (not yet instituted). The Republicans know that when they try to negotiate a delay for the individual mandate or the medical device tax, they are asking the President to critically weaken the ACA by defunding it. Unfortunately, they offer only compromises that the President and Democrats can not accept–an unfortunate “Catch 22” for the country.
In recent negotiations, Republicans have tried to appear flexible and gain public approval by re-funding a variety of popular programs, but neglecting programs they consider less desirable, especially if they provide support for the ACA. Despite their rhetoric, they offer no compromise to end the government crisis which does not contain an unacceptable “poison pill” for the ACA.
Although most people have felt few effects of the shutdown, it is costing the nation approximately $900 million a day (according to the CBO). There will be increasing negative effects on the nation and the economy, the NIH, military preparedness, Pentagon function, national safety, government contracts and projects, and especially, on government employees. If the shutdown morphs into a crisis over the debt ceiling, the nation will face a dangerous situation which could cascade into a worldwide depression.
In the past, we have survived the threats of communism, fascism, and terrorism. We have adhered to our Constitutional traditions and promoted democracy around the world. Few would have predicted that a small group of Tea Party zealots would undermine our democracy and institutions in the name of “patriotism.” Will Republicans allow the Tea Party to force a national default and plunge the world into depression? Will we govern in the future by confrontation and allow a minority of extremists to eliminate democratically passed laws as a price for avoiding national default and allowing the government to function?
In reviewing recent history, it is likely that the Republicans will avoid backing down until the last moment. Unfortunately, the threats to our economy cause uncertainty for business leaders who will not expand business and create jobs in such an unpredictable environment. Our credibility as a financially responsible nation could be eroded so that foreign nations will not trust us with their investments or as the holder of the world’s reserve currency. A foreign investor nation, anxious because of our debt ceiling crisis, could trigger a financial storm by immediately unloading a massive number of US bonds on the market. A final danger in the debt ceiling crisis involves the possibility of a miscalculation. The failure to pass a debt ceiling increase in a timely manner could fail at the last moment because of hamstrung negotiations, procedural glitches, or an ill or fatigued politician. Such failure could unleash an avalanche of financial events which would be impossible to reverse by “cooler heads” even minutes or hours later.
The “tail has wagged the dog” in the Republican Party to create absolute demands for which there is no middle ground or possible negotiation. Democrats can not capitulate in response to Tea Party threats and eliminate a law that has passed by the traditional democratic process. Government by threat and extortion can not become the national norm without damaging our democracy and creating permanent gridlock. Further brinksmanship is dangerous. We have seen damaging consequences already for a number of our citizens and could face an unprecedented disaster for the nation as a whole. Thus far, Republicans have offered only compromises the Democrats can not possibly accept. Rational House Republicans should work to bring forth clean bills to fund the government and increase the debt ceiling. These bills, presented in the House and Senate for up or down votes, would most likely pass. Such measures would resolve the crisis, bring stability to the business climate, provide a burst of growth for the economy, and provide a vote of confidence for our democratic process. The ACA, a growing reality, could be adapted in a bipartisan effort to provide a better health insurance structure for the nation. With cooperation as a new mantra, the parties could work together in bipartisan fashion to solve the Medicare and Social Security funding problems. For the good of the nation, Republicans must move urgently to end this unnecessary national crisis–because only they can end it.