Eight things the chaos on Capitol Hill isn't about

October 1, 2013
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So it's happened: the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years. Federal workers have been sent home without pay. Museums and national parks are closed. Any number of federal programs have ground to a halt. The debt ceiling looms—potentially a much larger problem. And it's all somehow related to Obamacare. What's this all about?

Well, here are a few things it isn't about:

  1. Runaway government spending. The shutdown and coming debt-ceiling fight aren't about Rebublicans resorting to desperate measures to stop the runaway train of federal spending. For better or for worse, the brakes have long since been applied. And introducing needless chaos isn't going to help anything.
  2. Runaway budget deficits. Yeah, those are already going down, too. They're still around—hence the always-looming debt ceiling—but if you think the problem is deficits (I don't, but whatever), it's a problem that's already getting better.
  3. Hitting the debt ceiling. We aren't about to hit the debt ceiling. We hit it months ago. What we're about to hit is the point at which the Treasury can no longer move money around to make things work anyway—the point at which it can't cover for the legislative branch's irresponsibility anymore.
  4. Congressional pay. Yes, members of Congress have constitutionally guaranteed salaries, not subject to furlough like other federal employees. While that may be offensive, it's only symbolically offensive—it's a distraction from the much larger problems on Capitol Hill. And really, shutdown instigators, you promise to donate your pay to charity? From a friend: "Instead, why don't you learn the name of the people who clean your offices, protect your building, and cook in your cafeteria—the ones you put out of work today—and pay their bills?"
  5. Circumstances outside John Boehner's control. It's clear that the Speaker of the House doesn't have control over his caucus. It's not at all clear that he couldn't lead the House more effectively if he cared to.
  6. Bipartisan business as usual. Yes, both parties have used the debt ceiling to make political points in the past. No, a Democratic House has never consistently treated the debt ceiling as a piece of leverage against an opposition president. 
  7. Strident partisanship. Speaking of both-sides-ism, just don't. The problem here isn't that Neither Side Is Willing To Reach Across the Aisle. It's the opposite: a deep divide within one party.
  8. Stopping ObamacareIt continues. The insurance exchanges opened today, and the biggest problem so far is that people are lining up out the e-door to participate.

But while even a government shutdown can't stop Obamacare in its tracks, all this brinksmanship from the congressional Tea Partiers is indeed about the health-care law. Do they really think they can force Democrats to cave on funding Obamacare? Or are they just looking ahead to future political advantages? Whatever their plan is, it doesn't seem to include much actual governing. That's a problem for party and nation alike.


Having been around a few more

Having been around a few more decades and watched some of the games Washington plays, I have to respectfully disagree.  A $400 Billion reduction in spending is NOT going to reduce the current deficit - it merely slows the rate of growth.  The Debt Ceiling is also still a problem, because - well - we are still going deeper into debt - which you and your generation (assuming your are some decades younger than me) will be paying off with higher taxes which rob from the programs the democrat party seems to revel in creating as 'entitlements.'  Over the past several decades the amount of the Federal Budget going to service just the debt has increased as a percentage of federal spending precipitously, and the debt has increased significantly as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (the total available on which to levy taxes!)  It will not be long before we as a nation cannot do much more than pay the debt interest, let alone afford all of those entitlements with which the country has been obligated. When Grandpa and Grandma don't get enough to live on after working for 40-60 years paying for someone else's social security, medicare, medicaid, etc., etc., - where is the money going to come from.  And if you feel we can just print more - go read the history of the Weimar Republic.  It is not pretty.

Respectfully agree with the key points here

I don't think the writer is saying debt doesn't matter, he is saying that other things are driving this debate. We are indeed trending in the right direction, and as a percentage of GDP today it is actually less than 70 years ago. And we earn more from our money abroad than foreign interests earn from us. Taxes and debt can be harmful, but it seems to me that health care, living income for the elderly, and food for the hungry aren't such a bad idea--I think we should be resourceful enough to provide food, shelter, and health care to our citizens, "entitlements" if you will.. Toying with the debt limit will do incalculably more damage than obsession with the debt and blind opposition to Obama's policies, even after they have gone from bills to laws to surviving constitutional challenges. What we need is responsible governance--the slash and burn Bush tax=and foreign-policies are still reverberating. And the current president wasn't the one who walked away from a "grand bargain" to achieve some of the reforms you seem to support here. 

Nicely Said Old Marsalla! Thank You!

I admire your calm and patient style. I am the author of the book-length post above yours with BOLD and Underlined Words trying to make a point to a Reverend (not known of what denomination) who seems to have trouble with the concepts of Empathy, Sympathy, and Philanthropy. Yours calmly states solid reasoning for not choosing the Republican platform, as benighted and cruel as it is....or can be. Thank you for teaching me...it might take a while, but I'll think of your style when next I am tempted to rip someone on the right a new one. Regards, PTL (my initials...not a quiet exhortation to Fundamentalist Christianity!).