As usual, much of the news coverage of the “government shutdown” has been unbelievably superficial; full of sound-bites and oversimplifications. The way they have framed the narrative tends to favor the Democrats. Here are some relevant facts about the “shutdown” that many journalists have ignored or spun. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, only to draw attention to things that many journalists have neglected to mention but that might be important to understanding the shutdown as well as placing blame:
* In 1974 the Democratic-Party controlled House and Senate passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act which shifted budgetary control away from the President and Executive branch to the Congress.
* The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act resulted in 6 government “shutdowns” before 1980 in which the Congress failed to agree on a budget. However, during all of these budget disputes, federal employees continued to operate normally and once a budget bill was finally passed it would retroactively fund them.
* Then in 1980, the Attorney General of the Democratic-Party controlled Carter Administration, Benjamin Civiletti, issued a legal opinion declaring that until Congress agrees on a spending bill the government must be shut down. His opinion cited an 1884 law called the Antideficiency Act for justification.
* Since that Carter Administration declaration, when Congress hasn’t been able to agree on a budget, the non-essential federal employees are furloughed until the disagreement is resolved.
* Most of the shutdowns since then lasted only 3 to 4 days and often happened over a weekend.
* The famous shutdown of 1995 and 1996 was triggered when Democratic President Bill Clinton vetoed the budget bills passed by the Republican controlled House and Senate, and the Republicans didn’t have enough votes to override the veto.
* The government was shut down for 6 days in November 1995 and then 22 days from December 16th 1995 to January 6th 1996. So even though it was a total of 28 days, it wasn’t all consecutive and much of it was over Christmas and New Years vacations.
* Polls from the 1995 shutdown showed that 46% of respondents blamed the Republicans for the shutdown and 27% Blamed President Clinton.
* That perception was reinforced when Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich made a comment that some interpreted to mean that the Republicans position on the budget was more about a personal snub by President Clinton than the good of the country. Mainstream media focus and repetition reinforced that perception.
* Public blame for the shutdown on the Republicans probably contributed to the re-election of Bill Clinton in 1996, but there were also positive consequences for the Republicans too:
- The Republicans kept control of both the House and Senate in the subsequent election (losing only 3 seats in the House and Gaining 2 seats in the Senate – the first time a Republican majority was RE-elected since 1928);
- They successfully passed a balanced budget deal in 1997 and the first 4 successfully balanced budgets since the 1920s.
- The Republicans kept control of the Congress for most of the next DECADE.
The Current 2013 Shutdown
* In 2007 the Democrats regained control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since end of 1994.
* Before Democratic President Obama took office in 2009, the government was mostly funded piecemeal through a normal appropriations process which involved about a dozen separate appropriations bills, each dealing with one or two agencies, independently debated and passed. That was the regular process.
* Since 2009 the Congress has not passed a normal budget, even though the law requires them to do so.
* Instead of the normal appropriations process, Congress has been using “Continuing Resolutions” to keep the government running without a normal budget. A continuing resolution authorizes government agencies to fund their agencies at the current level (based on the last passed budget–2008) until either the resolution expires, or an appropriations bill is passed.
* At the beginning of 2010, the Democratic-Party controlled congress passed the Affordable Care Act which is also often called Obamacare. It was controversial from the very beginning. It passed without a single Republican vote in either the House or Senate and was the first time such unprecedented, sweeping legislation was passed with ZERO bi-partisan support.
* The 2010 elections put the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives again–many of whom ran for office on a platform of overturning Obamacare.
* Since taking office at the beginning of 2011, The Republican controlled House has passed multiple budget bills, but those bills have been repeatedly rejected by the Democratic-Party controlled Senate and President Obama.
* President Obama proposed a budget, but it didn’t get a single vote from either the Democrats or Republicans in Congress.
* In 2012 The Supreme Court ruled the most controversial parts of Obamacare Constitutional by construing the Individual Mandate as a Tax, even though the Democrats had pushed it through congress by claiming that it was not a Tax.
* In 2012, President Obama won re-election and the Democrats kept control of the Senate, but the Republicans were ALSO re-elected to continue to control the House of Representatives, again: many running for office on a platform of overturning Obamacare.
* Even though the Obamacare law specifies certain dates and requirements for implementation, President Obama has unilaterally granted waivers and delayed implementation of the law for big businesses. Constitutionally, the President does not have the right to suspend or change the laws; Laws are only supposed to be changed through Congress.
* Frustrated by the fact that the Democrats refuse to follow the normal budget appropriations process required by law and instead have funded the government through continuing resolutions, Republicans in the House passed a continuing resolution that funded everything in government except for Obamacare. The Democrat controlled Senate rejected it.
* Since a shutdown was imminent, the Republicans in the House passed a piecemeal continuing resolution to fund the military. It was passed by the Democratic controlled Senate and signed by President Obama.
* The previous continuing resolution expired on September 30th, 2013, causing a government shutdown.
* The Republicans in the House passed a continuing resolution that would fund everything in the government with the condition that Obamacare be delayed for individuals the same way that Obama has unilaterally delayed it for big business. The Democrat controlled Senate rejected it.
* Since the normal appropriations process (which the Democrats had been flouting since 2009) is piecemeal, and the Democrats had already passed the piecemeal funding of the military, the Republican controlled House started to pass additional piecemeal continuing resolutions for other government agencies, like the National Parks, the Services for Military Veterans, and the National Institutes of Health.
* The Democrats, realizing that if they continued to agree to pass piecemeal continuing resolutions to fund select parts of government like they had for the military, soon everything would be funded except for Obamacare, refused to pass any more piecemeal continuing resolutions. They demanded an all-or-nothing bill that would fund everything (including Obamacare) or nothing.
So here we are: the Republicans refuse to sign an all-or-nothing bill that funds everything at once if it is going to include Obamacare. The Democrats refuse to sign piecemeal bills to individually fund other parts of government because it would allow all of the government to be funded except for Obamacare.
So who is holding the government funding hostage unless they get their way?
It depends on who you tend to support.
From the Democratic point of view, the Republicans are holding the funding hostage because they refuse an all-or-nothing bill if it includes Obamacare.
From the Republican point of view, the Democrats are holding the funding hostage because they refuse individual funding for even things that they all agree should be funded unless it is packaged with Obamacare.
Both are perfectly reasonable and logical from their individual starting points. But the media reports tend to favor the Democratic view.
The media also tends to warn that the “Republicans are going to get blamed for this just like they did in 1996” (which when repeated becomes conventional wisdom, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
But they fail to explain why the threat of getting blamed should deter Republicans. Yes, the Republicans in 1996 lost the Presidential Election. But they also won re-election for the first time since before the Great Depression, got many of the budgetary reforms they wanted in 1997, and held onto control of the Congress for the next decade.
This time around the Republicans already lost the 2012 Presidential Election, so that’s not really a concern. A repeat of 1996 is nothing to fear if it means regaining control of the Congress for the next 10 years.
They also regularly fail to explain how the Democrats have created the situation by flouting the law and refusing to follow the normal budget process so that they can force an all-or-nothing vote instead of dealing with normal, piecemeal appropriations and budgeting.
Finally, media personalities and Democratic politicians have been saying that it is wrong for Republicans to fight against Obamacare because it is the “Established Law of the Land” having been passed properly by Congress and signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme court.
But that is a ridiculous argument. Slavery was the “Established Law of the Land” too. The related laws had been properly passed, and they had been upheld by the Supreme Court (Surely they have heard of Dread Scott!).
Did Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans say, “Well then! We’re beat! Slavery is the Law of the Land! It was even upheld by the Supreme Court! So I guess we should stop fighting it.”
Getting elected to Congress and trying to change bad laws is exactly what our representatives are supposed to do. And doing it by fighting it out in Congress is exactly how it is supposed to happen.
The Founders gave the power over the purse to the House of Representatives for a reason.
Piecemeal Funding is a perfectly reasonable way to fund the government. That is how it is supposed to work.