The far-right Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in the U.S. Congress detests President Barack Obama so much that they are willing to throw the entire Republican Party – even the entire country – under the bus to satisfy that hate.
They detest that the landmark Affordable Care Act – which no president until now has ever been able to sign into law although many have tried – has earned voter endorsement with Obama’s re-election, and has been upheld by the Supreme Court. That is essentially why on the eve of the launch of the U.S. federal health insurance program, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to approve funding to keep the country going because it would also mean funding Obamacare, which kicked in on Monday.
While the stalemate lengthens, 800,000-plus federal workers sit on their hands waiting for these characters to play out this reprehensible game of politics. As a result, many federal services have been suspended, although essential services remain operational.
After the House of Representatives, goaded by the few dozen extremist members of the Tea Party, shut down federal departments as they maneuver to keep funding away from the national health insurance program, Obama came out swinging.
“I will not negotiate over Congress’ responsibility to pay bills it’s already racked up,” he said. “I’m not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to re-fight a settled election or to extract ideological demands.”
The tit-for-tat in the fallout is dizzying. Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, complained that the president would not talk to Congress to settle their differences while Obama shot back that there is no discussion to be had since they have a responsibility to honour debts that are outstanding. And, in any case, the health care legislation is a done deal.
There has been a lot of rumbling from African-Americans about how little Obama has done for them in particular since his election to the highest political office in that country in 2008. But this federally-administered insurance program is anticipated to have tremendous impact on that population. Of the 48-million Americans without health care coverage, African-Americans account for some 20 per cent. When considering the epidemic levels of diabetes, hypertension and aggressive breast cancer rates among African-Americans who are also among the nation’s poorest demographic, we have to consider these actions by a relatively small group of Republicans holding Congress hostage even more reprehensible.
The question that remains for the moment is how long this stalemate will last. This shutdown is not without precedent. The U.S. government has been shut down 17 times since 1976, usually for short periods. The last time political intransigence resulted in a shutdown came in 1995 when Democrat Bill Clinton was president and Republican Newt Gingrich was leader of the House of Representatives. One major difference between then and now is that the U.S. economy of 1995 was in vastly better shape. Also, they didn’t have the Tea Party types to deal with.
This current stalemate bodes ill for an economy that is still struggling to regain strength. There are concerns about a ripple effect, should federal workers remain off the job for too long. And it shouldn’t be lost on us here that as the U.S. economy goes so, eventually, goes the Canadian economy.
The other looming crisis is regarding the October 17 vote on the debt ceiling, which will affect the federal government’s ability to pay outstanding debts, but will also have even more far-reaching effects. If this same stalemate infects that vote, the U.S. federal government will face another fiscal cliff, and put the country’s fiscal credibility on a suicide path. Economists are issuing dire warnings and also suggesting that it would place the international economy into a never-never land of unknowns.
Racial animosity runs deep in America, so we have to ask if all this is happening because the current U.S. president is a Black man whose legacy these Tea Partiers are determined to undermine, even if they destroy the country in doing so.