Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi couldn’t have stated it more plainly: “We’ll take your number to keep government open. Give us a chance to vote for it.”
It didn’t matter. John Boehner wouldn’t let Democrats – the party which won the Senate and the White House, and which won 1.4 million more votes for the House than his own – give him the budget-slashing bill he’d demanded. He wouldn’t let them vote to accept his own draconian austerity budget, a budget which voters had rejected only last year. Some might say that he chose shutdown over surrender.
Remember that: It isn’t the “Tea Party fringe” or Ted Cruz who’s doing this. This shutdown has been orchestrated by John Boehner and the leadership of the mainstream Republican Party.
Boehner would only allow Congress to vote on a continuing resolution which delayed parts of the Affordable Care Act, a bill which he knew the Senate would reject the following day. He doesn’t even seem to care much about Obamacare anymore, but he forced a vote on it anyway – despite being offered the spending cuts he’s been pushing for a long time.
In their high-stakes standoff, the Republican leadership got everything they’d originally wanted. Then they started shooting hostages anyway.
Even some other Republicans were appalled. One House member, mixing metaphors as effortlessly as his peers mix martinis, described his fellow Republicans as “lemmings with suicide vests.”
What are they thinking? It’s hard to tell, since the GOP itself appears to be in complete chaos. But make no mistake about it: That is a hostage crisis, and however long or short the government shutdown turns out to be, the hostages – the American people – are already paying the price.
The economy has begun shrinking. Morgan Stanley analysts estimate that the Republican shutdown will “trim annual GDP growth by approximately 15 basis points per week of closing.”
With stocks down in seven out of the last eight sessions, the GOP’s wealthy patrons are already paying for its antics. Now it gets worse: Investors won’t receive the government reports they depend on. Twitter and other companies may not even be able to conduct their much-awaited, and supposedly wealth-producing, IPOs.
The nation’s indebtedness, about which Republicans profess to care so much, is also being sacrificed. Investors, seeing the extreme lengths to which Congressional Republicans are prepared to go, are losing confidence in the nation’s willingness to honor its debts. That could have severe long-term consequences for the country’s fiscal health.
So could the reaction of the ratings agencies which, however discredited by recent events, still have an enormous impact on the government’s borrowing costs. “This sort of political brinkmanship is the dominant reason the rating is no longer AAA,” said an S&P official. The agency warned that an extended shutdown could drive ratings even lower, which would increase borrowing costs.
Starting Tuesday, individual Americans will join the ranks of hostages. 800,000 households will suffer immediately, as their paychecks stop arriving. Soon others will share their suffering, as the businesses which depend on those families lose revenue and are forced to lay people off. The elderly and disabled will soon be forced to sacrifice as their checks fail to arrive.
Not that it’s fiscal doom and gloom everywhere. On Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the political fundraisers are still scheduled to take place as planned.
Americans’ understanding of the crisis wasn’t helped by reports like this one from the Associated Press, which asked “Who’ll blink?” without providing proper context. But the “he said/she said” reporting described by Joshua Holland hasn’t protected the Republicans from public wrath, at least not entirely. Polls show that more Americans will blame them for a government shutdown, and that more than two-thirds of Americans believe that even a brief shutdown will be bad for the country. (They’re right.)
So why are they doing it?
Jonathan Chait points to a legislative meeting which Republicans held after losing the 2012 election, and to an agreement called “the Williamsburg Accord” in which they swore to accept no further compromises. And even though there are no compromises on the budget itself – Democrats have agreed to accept the Republicans’ spending levels with no changes – the Right appears to have pumped itself up into something approaching a frenzy.
Even the “Williamsburg Accord” permits Republicans to accept their opponents’ surrender – but not, apparently, if the Right has raised its demands in the meantime. Today, at the last minute, Republicans proposed a “conference committee” to press for even more. Rewarding them in that way would have ensured an endless parade of future crises. Apparently some Democrats understand that, since Harry Reid replied by saying his party would not “go to conference with a gun to our head.”
A majority of the public believes that Republicans are behaving like “spoiled children,” according to one poll, although a better analogy might be drunk drivers. Don’t get us wrong: We don’t mind the boozing, but even lawmakers don’t usually drink until the job is finished. They certainly don’t treat a government shutdown, which is tragic in both human and economic terms, as a reason to have a party.
This is no longer a hostage negotiation. It has become something far more unpredictable, and therefore much more frightening. Republicans have come full circle from the days when Ronald Reagan proclaimed that “it’s morning in America.” It’s midnight in John Boehner’s America as we write these words, and the shutdown has officially begun.
Richard “RJ” Eskow
Tuesday, 1 October 2013