Perhaps the most common criticism of my political musings on this site is that, being a principled pragmatic, I don’t fully choose a side of the aisle and stick with it. This is accurate enough, though to be honest I’ve never fully understood why it’s so often seen as a failing. True, I clearly believe that one party is substantially more unhinged than the other, but for me this has never been enough to give a pass to instances of corruption, incompetence, stupidity or moral failings that occur on the other side of the aisle. (As I’ve oft said, that the Democrats shortcomings are “falsely equivalent” to the GOP’s does not mean that pretending Team Blue’s transgressions don’t exist is good for the country, or for that matter the Democrats themselves.)
I want to acknowledge this upfront in order to fully stress what I’m about to say about the current government shutdown, the factors that have brought us here, and the very real probability that these factors will continue into the upcoming debt ceiling debate and further damage the United States’ credit rating:
The current government shutdown is damaging, dangerous and unnecessary — and the fault of it lies entirely with Republicans, and Republicans alone.
At some point in the coming month or so – once we have a better idea exactly how deep this rot is going to be allowed to seep – I will try to do a more considered analysis of the entire debacle. For now, however, I think it’s necessary to chronicle the cynicism, lies, mass delusion, hubris and personal-gain-over-country mentality that have brought us to this most shameful place. In the interest of space, I’m going to limit myself to what I see as the ten most egregious falsehoods about the shutdown being perpetrated by the GOP and the conservative media today:
Government Shutdown Lie #1: “The government shutdown will have no negative effects on people or the economy.”
Tune into any branch of the conservative media machine, and you’ll hear some version of this lie. And to be sure, most people (and I include myself here) will feel no real direct effects from the shut down. The effects for some, however, are pretty serious:
The WIC program, a food program which supports low-income mothers, children under five and pregnant women has been shelved. Safety inspections of food have gone by the wayside, as has the influenza program. And in an economy that continues to look to rebound from the effects of the last recession, close to a million federal employees were furloughed; additional numbers will be furloughed next week if the shutdown continues (which it assuredly will). Additional cuts will have to be made in the coming weeks if there is no resolution. These include a shutdown of veteran services, a ceasing of SBA loans, interruption in disability benefits, the closing of Head Start programs, and a stoppage of cancer treatment for those patients that rely on the NIH.
Worse, there looms the very real possibility that Republicans will attempt similar scorched-Earth tactics with the upcoming debt-ceiling negotiation. Pretty much everyone aggress that a default will result in a lowering of the US credit rating, which would most likely have a profoundly negative impact on the national economy. Boehner has been quoted as saying he’ll avoid defaulting on the federal debt, but he was saying similar things a month ago about shutting down the government. I have no doubt that he is as sincere now as I believe he was then. It’s just that when faced with the imploding GOP and its increasingly shrill and radical base, what he sincerely wanted didn’t matter much before, and I see no reason to believe it will with the debt ceiling.
Government Shutdown Lie #2: “The government has been shutdown a total of 18 times in the past 38 years, so there’s really no big deal about this shutdown.”
This is another conservative media staple. While true in a very narrow sense, it is very purposefully misleading.
The modern method of approving budgets started in 1976, and Republican pols are correct that since then the government has “shut down” 17 times prior to this year. However, as Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post notes,
It’s also important to note that not all shutdowns are created equal. Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn’t necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning. Civiletti’s opinions interpreted the Antideficiency Act, a law passed in 1884, as meaning that a failure to pass new spending bills required government functioning to shut down in whole or in part. So the “shutdowns” listed below that happened between 1976tand 1979 did not always entail an actual stop to government functioning; they were often simply funding gaps that didn’t have any real-world effect.
After 1979, all the shutdowns lasted but a few days, and were resolved quickly because both parties were well aware of the negative effects a prolonged government shutdown would produce. The sole exception, and really the only shutdown comparable to the current one, was the infamous 21-day shutdown in 1995.
Back then, the economy did suffer from the shutdown; U.S. stocks lost 4% of their value in the weeks of the shutdown. The economy did bounce back relatively quickly, but the United States circa 1995 had several advantages over the United States today that assisted with that quick recovery: Unemployment rates are almost 40% higher today then they were in 1995. The stock market was not worried that Congress might let the nation go into default, because the thought that Congress might actually allow such a thing was considered bat-s**t crazy back then. Most importantly, however, is that Republicans at the time were very concerned about how their actions might affect their national popularity and electability — things which the GOP and its base seem to care little about these days.
Government Shutdown Lie #3: “Democrats forced the government shutdown, Republicans have actively been trying to prevent it.”
The most predictable of all the GOP’s lies about the shutdown, it’s also the most easily debunked. The government shutdown was an actual strategy planned by Congressional Republicans – everything that is happening today is exactly what they were actually shooting for.
How do we know this? Because in August eighty of them they actually wrote down what they were about to do, signed it, and announced it to the world. That the GOP now claims the shutdown is due to Democrats’ refusal to do the work of Congress might be the single most cynically brazen lie I have seen an entire political party make in my entire adult life.
Government Shutdown Lie #4: “Shutting down the government to stop Obamacare is something the American people support.”
Another conservative media staple. Actually, 72% of Americans disapprove of using the shutdown to defund Obamacare. In fact, slightly more Republicans disapprove of the GOP’s strategy than approve of it.
Government Shutdown Lie #5: “Obamacare has been forced upon the American people, and its opponents have never been given the chance to either debate or contest it.”
If the whopper that the shutdown is due to the Democrats is the most brazen lie, this is certainly the most idiotic. Rand Paul, echoing talk radio hosts throughout the conservative media, has praised the shutdown strategy because “we haven’t had a big debate about Obamacare, really, since it passed.”
I almost feel like it’s insulting to readers to even address this statement, but just for the record: Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the law has been sent to the Supreme Court, it has been a staple of every news and opinion network or publication, it was the key issue in the 2012 election, and Congressional Republicans have brought no less than 42 bills attempting to overturn it.
After all of that Rand Paul has the balls to say we haven’t had a chance to debate Obamacare? F**k that – we’ve never stopped having a debate.
Government Shutdown Lie #6: “Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have given themselves a special deal that allows them to opt out of Obamacare because they already know it’s bad for you.”
It is true that Congress Critters will not be going into the exchanges, as they initially promised to do for political reasons. And to whatever degree they deserve to be hammered on that, so be it.
But the fact that they can avoid the exchanges isn’t because they have a “special deal;” it’s because they already belong to a group health plan. Do you have health insurance through your employer? Then you aren’t going into the exchanges either. That isn’t “special” treatment; it’s the cornerstone of the entire piece of legislation.
Government Shutdown Lie #7: “Obamacare forces young, healthy people to pay the hospital bills of the old and sick; that’s called Socialism.”
Government Shutdown Lie #8: “Young people would be better off financially paying a fine and opting out of Obamacare.”
We’ve already given awards for Most Brazen and Most Idiotic lies, how about we award this one Most Contemptible?
If you clicked the link above and read the explanation about why health insurance programs need young healthy people, you’ll understand the strategy behind Generation Opportunity.
Generation Opportunity is a group funded by the Koch brothers that looks to convince young people they should opt out of being insured and pay the fine instead. The hope is that if they can convince enough young people to do so, there will be enough adverse selection in the risk pool that premiums will go up and Obamacare will be unopoular.
It’s hard to know which individual part of this strategy I find most evil. It might be that you’re trying to convince young people that paying to not be insured is in their best financial interest, and then later will presumably be using some “natural liberty” argument to tell them why they should have had the foresight to be insured when they get sick or injured and cannot afford care. Or it might be that they are trying to artificially make insurance premiums less affordable for people who can already barely afford them in order to later say “told you so!” Or it may be this unbelievably creepy ad, which is what they’re using to try to scare kids into paying to be uninsured.
Government Shutdown Lie #9: “People are having a hard time understanding Obamacare; this is what happens when you have government do what the free market should.”
I have no doubt people are confused when signing up for Obamacare. But trust me when I say this isn’t because it’s going through the government – it’s because it’s health insurance.
Back before my retirement, I used to go out each year to help my clients do open enrollment with their employees. And not just me, in fact – I went with my team’s Benefit Specialist as well as a representative from whichever health insurer my client was using. We would never enroll more than 50 employees in one meeting, and each meeting would be at least one hour long. In these meetings we would be able to interact with people face to face, answer questions directly, and deal with the exact same people we had done this dance with the year prior, and the year prior to that. And every time we would need to explain and re-explain the same points, and when the meeting was done we would have to make ourselves available to those people who still didn’t quite get it, and later in the week we would have to field calls from HR execs who had those same employees follow up with still more questions.
Health insurance is confusing, and only gets more confusing if you give people options. It’s that way whether or not the government is involved. And my guess is if you have open enrollment meetings with your employer, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Government Shutdown Lie #10: “Supporting the government shutdown in order to stop Obamacare is the conservative thing to do.”
No, it isn’t.
Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections, and have failed since 2004 to get a majority in the Senate. Their base has been shrinking steadily for years, both in overall population and in percentage of registered voters. Every move they are currently making is decidedly unpopular with Americans.
Despite this, they look to subvert over 230 years of legal and legislative tradition, “overturn” the Supreme Court, and make meaningless their poor performance at the ballot box. They wish, in other words, to make meaningless that same Constitution they so loudly (and so compartmentally) fetishize.
They look to make a new law of the land, one which declares that the side who hates the most gets its way, regardless of popular support, legal precedent, or common decency.
That isn’t conservatism – it’s radicalism, pure and simple.