Tuesday, October 1, 2013

U.S. Government Begins Shutdown

In what now seems like a horrible embarrassment for America, the U.S. Congress last night failed to come to a 12th-hour deal to fund federal agencies. After successive negotiations and new demands from House Republicans, the last-ditch effort to avoid a government shutdown ultimately broke down into a stalemate between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, both of which hold majorities in their respective legislative bodies. As the first shutdown in 17 years, one crucial element stands out: between polarized politics and uncompromising lawmakers, the failure to come to an agreement on funding everyday government operations ushers in a new chapter in the recent history of the American political landscape, one where extremism and obstructionism can prevail.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employers who will be forced from work aren’t the only collateral damage of the shutdown. Agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will lose their capacity to respond to health crises. Financial oversight of the derivatives market will largely shut down. Even the WIC program is getting slashed, which provides vouchers to low-income mothers with children for food products such as milk, eggs, cereal and baby formula. 

Why is the government shutting down? Largely because the Republican-controlled House has not been able to send the Senate a funding bill that doesn't gut or weaken the ACA, which was a major component of President Obama's reelection platform. The House has in the past repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare (to no avail), and yesterday's funding bill proposal was just another example of this blind stubbornness. 

While there are 40-or-so House Republicans taking the blame who might not realize the impact of the shutdown, their indifference points to other factors shaping the funding debate. These Republican politicians, most of whom identify with the Tea Party movement, pose a real threat to crucial figures such as House Speaker John Boehner and the larger Republican political leadership who should have the influence to convince rank-and-file politicians to toe the line. This has led to some interesting cracks in the Republican party between the old and newcomers., and the hostility is making for very good PR for Democrats in the midterm elections.

Overall, Americans deserve much more than this from their elected officials. Shutting down the government should never be used as a bargaining chip in a game of hostage where very real consequences exist for millions of Americans, nor is it an acceptable option. Spectacles like these are spawning political instability that harms everyday Americans, our reputation abroad and U.S. values in the process. It's my hope that we can put reason above grudges and for politicians to just do what we elected them to do: govern.

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