Earlier this week, Ted Cruz-the senator from Texas and Tea Party favourite-occupied the floor of the US Senate for 21 hours in a pseudo-filibuster to defiantly reaffirm his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Following the passing of a bill by the House of Representatives which defunds President Obama’s signature legislation, the Democratic Senate is poised to jettison the defunding clause and move the amended budget back to the GOP-controlled House for approval. Tensions are now running high, for failure to pass a continuing resolution by October 1st will result in an almost complete government shut-down.
This is not the first time the partisan divide has threatened the United States economy with a meltdown, as memories of the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ and subsequent sequestration linger in our minds. This time, the centre of the rift is Obamacare-with the far-right wing faction of the GOP willing to hold the US economy hostage to ensure their demands are met to scrap the act which will provide healthcare to millions of yet-uninsured Americans. Preceding the current stalemate, the Republican House voted no less than 42 times to defund the law, with the Senate subsequently shooting down their attempts every single time. In the extremely unlikely eventuality that even the Democratic Senate voted against Obamacare-President Obama has (unsurprisingly) promised to veto the legislation. Therefore, Republicans in Congress are repeatedly engaging in behavior which they know to be futile. As a result, an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of a Congress which has far surpassed in inaction Truman’s famed “Do Nothing Congress“.
The lack of public support goes further, as the majority of Americans do not believe that the stubborn attempts of Cruz, Lee et al. should hinder a process as sacrosanct as passing a budget. Relatively moderate Republican veterans, including Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, wary of the prospect of losing public credibility have hence derided Cruz’s uncompromising campaign to defund Obamacare-even going as far as calling the tactic a publicity stunt in light of Cruz’s obvious presidential ambitions. Despite the rare outrage from some of their fellow Republicans, as well as the fact that Obamacare will not lose a great portion of its funding (due to mandatory spending) in the case of a government shutdown, the Tea Party persists in their campaign. However, the passing of the continuing resolution is not the only bargaining chip the GOP is willing to use to achieve their ambitions.
Raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling is a measure which will allow the United States to continue financing existing debts (and does not mandate additional spending) and hence failure to do so will result in a historically unprecedented credit default. A sovereign debt crisis may follow, which will quickly spiral out of control, affecting much of the rest of the world in a likely new economic crisis. For most of American history, the prospect of increasing the borrowing limit was considered too important to be sabotaged by partisan divisions. Even Ronald Reagan, a demigod-like figure to conservatives, reached across the aisle to the liberal speaker of the house Tip O’Neill to avoid the dreaded prospect of defaulting on credit-all in all Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times during his presidency. Regardless of this, the current GOP insists upon utilizing the measure to finance a conservative agenda and have attached provisions to the bill for everything ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to relaxing regulations and restructuring the tax code. Once again, the public is firmly against risking default to defund the healthcare bill, with 7 in 10 Americans preferring an agreement which they would otherwise view as less than ideal to a disastrous credit default.
For all the racket resonating from the GOP, one would assume that the proposed legislation would be calamitous for the American public-something Cruz attempts to convince the public of at every possible opportunity-even resorting to a Nazi comparison which was misinformed at the very least. Although the Affordable Care Act is flawed and contains significant loopholes, it will most definitely provide millions with affordable health insurance and hence 56 percent of the US public believes it should be made workable by Congress instead of resorting to a shut-down of government in opposition. Ironically, Cruz has run on the slogan “Make Washington Listen”-while the only faction within DC not listening to the voice of the people is Cruz’s far-right. The contradictions don’t end there, as Cruz contends that Obamacare is costing American jobs, while ignoring the scores of Americans who would fall victim to involuntary furlough should his tactic yield a shutdown. Furthermore, Cruz has no alternative for provisions made in the Affordable Care Act for those with pre-existing conditions, deferring to “a booming economy” as the alternative while giving no specifics. However, it seems like even Cruz acknowledges that the American people will come to appreciate Obamacare, as he elucidated his belief that Americans will become “addicted to the subsidies” to the extent that they will not allow the program to become undone.
The US economy and in fact the world as a whole, has finally begun to recover from the disastrous recession of 2008 and is not prepared to endure another as a result of partisan squabbling. Yes, pluralism is intrinsic to democracy and hence differing opinions are nothing but natural to the system. Nevertheless, when an inevitable impasse arises, a spirit of rationality and compromise must often emerge. Therefore, to self-inflict damage upon one’s own country and derail its economy, simply because one does not get one’s way, is an irresponsible tactic characteristic of a party which puts their own interests far above those of the people they claim to represent.