WASHINGTON – The GOP-controlled House of Representatives pushed the nation over the cliff into a government shutdown at 12 a.m. Tuesday after the failure of their 45th attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The shutdown immediately forced some 800,000 workers off the job and suspended an array of critical federal programs and services.
In addition to wanting to kill Obamacare Republicans have tried for weeks now to push through an entire right-wing wish list in exchange for not shutting down the government. Their 21-point wish list included everything from means-testing Social Security benefits to eliminating health insurance coverage for birth control and slashing funds for food stamps.
As of Tuesday half the civilian workforce in the Department of Defense has been furloughed without pay and the other half is working without pay.
Clinical services have been cut off for nearly 9 million pregnant women, recent mothers and young children.
More than 400 national parks, museums and zoos have been shut down.
Educational, compensation and pension benefits for hundreds of thousands of veterans have been put on hold, as have applications for new Social Security benefits and services for seniors.
If the shutdown lasts for the same length of time as it did in the mid-1990s, 27 days, estimates are that the cost to taxpayers will be about $2 billion.
Postal service will continue as usual because it is self-funded.
The Senate twice Monday rejected House-passed bills that, first, conditioned keeping the government open to delaying key portions of the 2010 Obamacare law, and second, delayed for a year the law’s requirement that millions of people buy health insurance. The House passed the last version again early Tuesday, after the shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the same fate would await this bill Tuesday afternoon when the Senate reconvenes.
President Obama compared the Republicans’ action Monday to holding the nation hostage. “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,” he said.
It appeared that the president and Senate Democrats might have the upper hand, as even some Republicans concede.
“We can’t win,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., adding that “sooner or later” the House would have to agree to Democrats’ demands for a simple, straightforward funding bill reopening the government.
President Obama’s refusal to negotiate under the barrel of a tea party gun has the support of the union that represents the 800,000 government workers already furloughed.
“President Obama has promised that he will not negotiate to end this crisis, and we strongly support that position,” declared J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Recent similar standoffs have been resolved largely on the backs of federal employees, taking away our pay, retirement, and jobs. This time, we expect the administration to hold form, and resist the temptation to give in by cutting federal retirement or Social Security. There is no justification for using federal employees to pay ransom.”
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said shutting down the government to prove a point is a “temper tantrum worthy of a four-year-old.”
“It’s bad enough that Republicans’ intellectually dishonest austerity policies have starved the United States of the public investment necessary for shared prosperity in the future,” Trumka said. “Sequester was and remains a complicated name for a disastrous policy, but somehow Republicans have managed to go from pushing irresponsible policies to something even worse.”
“We stand with President Obama,” Trumka said, “as he rejects unequivocally all Republican hostage taking. And we agree with the president that it would be a disastrous precedent for our democracy if we have any negotiations over the debt ceiling.”
“Repeal the job-killing sequester,” Trumka declared. “Protect food aid for the poor. And create jobs and raise hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our future by ending tax subsidies for outsourcing.”
Photo: Workers with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development protest the government shutdown in downtown Chicago. M. Spencer Green/AP