US shutdown trivial in light of what the Tea Party plans next
This won’t bring the superpower to its knees - but the new threat to the dollar is deadly serious
DO I REALLY live in the world’s greatest democracy? It is hard to believe it while watching the shenanigans in Washington.
Something is breaking in the American political process. The much vaunted separation of powers decreed by the Constitution in the 18th century to keep would-be kings in check has become a tool for spiteful losers in an essentially meaningless debate.
Consider the last card played by the Republicans’ Tea Party rump in the House of Representatives as they drove the country to this morning’s federal government shutdown.
The House, with its Republican majority, had - as expected - sent a budget bill to the Senate, the upper house controlled by the Democrats, with amendments which would halt for a year the implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Health Care reforms - ‘Obamacare’ - and strip its administration of public funding.
The Democratic majority leaders in the Senate took 20 minutes yesterday afternoon to remove the Obamacare threat from the bill, put it to a vote, and send it back to the House.
The shutdown would not have been necessary if the House Republicans had then returned the budget bill, without further political amendments, to the Senate before midnight last night.
The Tea Party wheeze? They attached a new amendment mandating that members of Congress and their staffs, the White House staff and the President and the Vice-President buy their medical insurance on the new health law’s “exchanges”, without any subsidies from the government to offset the cost.
In other words, the Republicans’ last card in a debate that is meant to have been of great national consequence was a threat to confiscate the lawmakers’ own privileges just as if they were school kids threatening to abolish the candy allowance.
The Senate took less than an hour to kill that idea and lob the bill straight back. The shutdown was on.
It is extraordinary how forced and trivial the whole to-do really is. Reading the headlines, the world would be forgiven for imagining something on the scale of a shutdown in Rome at the height of the Imperium. In reality, the budget under discussion has little to do with the great grinding wheels of American commerce and power. It is Washington’s downstairs budget.
The National Parks, including DC’s own tourist attractions, will close and 800,000 non-essential workers on the federal payroll will be sent home without pay.
Air traffic controllers, Nasa technicians looking after the space lab and the ridiculous politicians themselves stay at work by law, and get paid. This will not bring the superpower to its knees.
In this go-round, the world can afford a rueful laugh at the old Beacon of Democracy. But in the next one, it probably cannot.
Within the next three or four weeks the White House must submit proposals to raise the government debt ceiling. For decades, this has been routine bi-partisan business on The Hill, the dropping of a rubber stamp. But the Constitution makes it law for Congress to approve all three pillars of budgeting: the raising of taxes, the spending of taxes, and debt.
So the Republican hardliners get another chance at the same caper. Last Thursday, they began the process: they decreed that in exchange for raising the debt limit, they want – yes, again – a one-year delay in Obamacare, an overhaul of the tax code so that the rich will pay even less, the repeal of environment protection regulations, and approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian shale beds to the Texas oil refineries.
It is worth noting that these are the exact goals of the free-market industrial plutocrats who funded the “populist” Tea Party in the first place.
Obama has already said No. He will not allow “the full faith and credit of the United States government” to be used as a bargaining chip.
That is indeed what is at stake because unless the debt ceiling is raised, the United States Treasury will, in theory at least, be unable to service its debts or honour its bonds.
The consequences of that go a lot further than putting park-keepers out of work. It would undermine the entire world economic order which is based on the security of the dollar.
It would be the Eurocrisis writ large and on a global scale. Wall Street tumbled yesterday at the very thought.
There is a silver lining to the gathering clouds; a growing sense even among Republicans that Congressional “murder-suicide” has gone too far. Wall Street pays the politicians of both parties. Will it have the clout to rein them in? ·