At the time of this writing, the U.S. government is shutting down because a a group of reactionary tea party Republicans refuses to allow Congress to do its job of passing a budget, and because the House Republican leadership refuses to stand up to these reckless reactionaries. Yesterday afternoon, as it became clear that a shutdown would occur, President Obama gave a great speech laying out exactly what is happening here, who is to blame, and why it matters.
First, the President made clear that the shutdown is an entirely manufactured crisis that does not need to occur:
And it doesn’t have to happen. Let me repeat this: It does not have to happen. All of this is entirely preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done — and that’s the simple act of funding our government without making extraneous and controversial demands in the process, the same way other Congresses have for more than 200 years.
What is especially frustrating about this manufactured crisis is that neither a majority of the Senate or the House supports shutting down the government. If a clean continuing budget resolution were to come to a vote in the House, it would almost certainly pass, and then would pass the Senate and be signed by the President. But, as our President explained, “one faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government” – tea party House Republicans – has decided to shut our government done.
The only reason that this faction has such power is because House Speaker John Boehner refuses to lift the Hastert Rule. That “rule,” which is actually just a policy that Republicans choose to follow whenever they control the House, prevents any legislation from coming to the floor of the House for a vote unless it is supported by a majority of GOP House members. As such, even if legislation has majority support in the House as a whole, the legislation can never pass because a vote won’t be allowed if a majority of GOPers don’t support it. Speaker Boehner could get a continuing budget resolution out of the House with the votes of Democrats plus moderate Republicans. He refuses to do so, however. That refusal, and that refusal alone, is why the government is shutting down.
Second, President Obama made clear that keeping the government running is a basic requirement of Congress’ job, rather than something that should be withheld in an effort to extort other policy changes:
Of all the responsibilities the Constitution endows to Congress, two should be fairly simple: pass a budget, and pay America’s bills.
. . . .
Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you “give” to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility.
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It’s why we should be avoiding these kinds of constant brinksmanship. It’s something that we do in the ordinary process of this extraordinary system of government that we have. You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job; for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway; or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like.
This point – that keeping government running is a basic requirement of the job, rather than a concession to be negotiated over, is important because far too many in the media are continuing to engage in false equivalency reporting that suggests that the problem here is that “both sides” are refusing to negotiate. For example, national political reporter Ron Fournier recently claimed in a tweet – ““Insane:” R/D partisans playing to debt limit brink. No talks. No leadership. All positioning.” But that is utter poppycock.
One side – the Democrats – are taking a straightforward position in favor of clean votes on both the continuing budget resolution and the debt ceiling increase. They aren’t demanding the passage of other policy goals or conditions on increasing the debt ceiling. The other side – the GOP – however, is refusing to keep the government operating or to lift the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to a series of right-wing causes that have nothing to do with those issues. One could say that “both sides” are to blame here if the Democrats were insisting on numerous liberal policies before they would agree to a continuing budget resolution or debt ceiling increase. But they are not doing so. Instead, they are calling for the clean votes that are Congress’ job. Let’s not let the media pretend otherwise.
Re-establishing the fact that keeping the government operating and enabling the US to pay its debts are not things to be negotiated over is also critical because continued repeated brinkmanship on government shutdowns or debt ceilings threaten to inflict significant harm on our economy and financial standing the world. As President Obama explained, if the government shutdown that the GOP has caused lasts very long, it could threaten the nascent economic recovery because:
More than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active-duty military serve in all 50 states and all around the world. In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of these dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay — and several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay.
What, of course, will not be furloughed are the bills that they have to pay — their mortgages, their tuition payments, their car notes.
. . . .
So a shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away. Past shutdowns have disrupted the economy significantly. This one would, too. It would throw a wrench into the gears of our economy at a time when those gears have gained some traction.
Five years ago right now, our economy was in meltdown. Today, our businesses have created 7.5 million new jobs over the past three and a half years. The housing market is healing and our deficits are falling fast. The idea of putting the American people’s hard-earned progress at risk is the height of irresponsibility.
The harms could be even worse if we end up defaulting, or coming close to defaulting on our debts if these same reckless Republicans refuse to increase the debt ceiling. The fact is that our economic standing in the world is based largely on the fact that investors consider US Treasury bonds the safest investment in the world. But the fact that one of the two major political parties in the US – the GOP – is now willing time and time again to hold our nation’s creditworthiness hostage to narrow and unrelated ideological goals may be enough to change the financial markets’ view of our bonds. A couple more of these irresponsible refusals to provide a clean increase in the debt limit will be enough for those markets to start understanding that they can no longer trust that the US will always be able to honor its debts.
The solution is to make clear to the GOP that its hostage taking on the continuing budget resolution and the debt ceiling will not pay off but, instead, will cause major harm to the GOP. That means that President Obama and Congressional Democrats must stand firm in their insistence on clean votes on both issues. Only by doing so will we have a chance to, as our President said yesterday, convince Congress that it:
needs to keep our government open, needs to pay our bills on time, and never, ever threaten the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
If you want to help make sure Congress gets that message, call your Congresspeople today. If they are Democrats, urge them to stand strong on insisting on clean votes on a continuing budget resolution and a debt ceiling increase. If they are Republicans, tell them to do their job and make sure our government stays open and our bills get paid, rather than imperiling our economy in the name of unrelated ideological causes.