OK. Not much introduction needed this month. Here is what is going on with the so-called government “shutdown.”
How much of the government is shut down? Even the government’s own research service says that the title “government shutdown” is misleading. After all, even without special legislation, only about 50% of the government would literally be closed. But the House and the Senate have already passed, and the President has signed, legislation that protects the military from the impact of a shutdown, so the “shutdown” is impacting only about 15% of the federal government. Yes, that is still important if you rely on that 15% of the government (Head Start, passports, national parks), but this is still more of a “slowdown” than a complete shutdown.
This hasn’t happened in a long time, right? This hasn’t happened since 1995 —- but for two decades before that, it was pretty much an annual event. We went through this 17 times between 1976 and 1995. Five of those were during the Carter Administration, when Democrats controlled the White House, the House, and the Senate. (The fight during one of those slowdowns was over federal funding for abortion, believe it or not. The Democrat president wanted it; the Democrat-controlled Congress did not.) When I hear folks talking about how unprecedented this is, and how it marks an all-time low for dysfunction in government, I cannot help but wonder if the previous 17 examples were similarly lamented.
Do the Republicans really think the can repeal Obamacare this way? No. But to a certain extent there was some bad information going around in some conservative circles over the summer. As one person asked me this week in an email: “Hey, the government is shutdown, but Obamacare is still going forward…how did that happen?”
It happened because most of Obamacare is “mandatory spending” — what I call automatic spending —- and is proceeding despite the slowdown. Yes, there is some Obamacare funding in the budget (what we call discretionary spending) that is being held up, but that is a far cry from defunding the law.
Most Republicans knew that we would never fully repeal Obamacare so long as the Democrats held the Senate, and President Obama was still in office. Which is why, well before the government ran out of funding, we asked for something much less than repeal.
What are the Republicans asking for? The last Republican “offer” was to fully and completely fund the government for one year in exchange for a one-year delay in the individual mandate, and a permanent repeal of the Congressional healthcare subsidy.
We think this is a reasonable compromise. After all, people could still sign up for the exchanges if they wanted to. And it would not impact President Obama’s “legacy,” as the law would remain in place.
What is this really all about? As you may have heard several times from now from my Democrat colleagues: Obamacare is the law of the land.
Yes it is.
So, the Republicans’ question is this: why is the law of the land being applied differently to different people?
Why do insurance companies in Nevada get their own set of rules? (Is it because Senate Majority leader Harry Reid hails from there?) Why did 38 restaurants, hotels and nightclubs in San Francisco get special exemptions? (Isn’t that Nancy Pelosi’s district?) And why did the teamsters, food workers and SEIU unions get treated differently than everyone else? (Weren’t they big political supporters of the President?)
Closer to home: why did Members of Congress and their staffs get a special employer contribution toward their health care…something nobody else in the country gets?
Quite simply, this is about fairness. The law should apply to everyone equally. Period. End of story.
Keep in mind, none of these exemptions are in the law: they have been created out of thin air by the President and his administration. I have yet to have anyone explain to me why it is unreasonable to simply ask that the law be enforced as written. And that is precisely what Republicans are asking.
Would I like to repeal Obamacare? Without question. Would I like to see it delayed – across the board.? Absolutely. But elections have consequences, and the consequence of the re-election of Barack Obama is that Obamacare is coming, and there is little Republicans can do to stop it. Elections in 2014 and 2016 may provide other alternatives, but for right now I would think we could all agree at the very least that it is wrong for people with friends in the White House to get special treatment. If we are going to face this law, we should all be facing it together.
How will this end? It will end the same way it has every other time we have been in this situation: by both sides sitting down and talking. That is the way our system of a divided federal government is supposed to work.
As of now, we are still waiting for the President to recognize that.
Mick Mulvaney is a U.S. Congressman for the 5th District for South Carolina.