WASHINGTON - Democratic lawmakers and others here warned yesterday that as Republicans continue to play their dangerous game of "chicken" with the federal budget and debt ceiling, the chances of avoiding a goverment shutdown in five days are becoming slimmer and slimmer.
"House Republicans are actually determined to shut down the government if they can't defund Obamacare," declared Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., last night on national television. Pallone issued his warning on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show: "They are determined to shut down the government despite widesperead bipartisan disagreement by the American people."
The union that represents millions of federal government workers, AFGE, said yesterday that it is in full mobilization mode against the impending shutdown. The federal government employs 2.15 million workers nationwide, with the Postal Service enmploying another 590,000. The union says the government will declare almost all the federal workers "non-essential," sending them home in event of a government shutdown.
"It's like taking the government employees hostage and saying, 'We won't let them come to work unless we're given what we want," said Charles Teifer, law professor at the University of Balitimore and former deputy general counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. "It's taking a couple of million of government employees hostage."
Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), whose city budget must be approved by Congress, declared yesterday, in an effort to prevent his city from grinding to a halt next week, that every D.C. worker is "essential." A shutdown would send home the 32,000 people who keep the nation's capital running every day.
One of the many but less-talked about effects of a shutdown will be its toll on the civil rights and the workplace rights of all Americans.
"A government shutdown means no Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to enforce the Civil Rights Act and the orther laws barring workplace discrimination," said Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE's National Council of Equal Employment Opportunity Commision Locals.
The last time Republicans shut down the government was in 1995. Americans blamed them, not then-President Clinton for the shutdown by huge margins. The following year, Clinton was re-elected despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.
With the shutdown now looming, Americans say overwhelmingly that it is unacceptable for either a president or members of Congress to threaten a government shutdown in order to achieve their goals, according to a new CBS/New York Times poll.
Eighty percent of Americans say threatening a government shutdown is not an acceptable way to negotiate; only 16 percent think it is. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all agreed that shutdown of government is not a way to negotiate.
While shutdowns have been threatened and have actiually happened before, this one is seen as radically different. For the first time ever, the shutdown threat is being used as a tool to achieve repeal of duly-passed legislation (Obamacare).
"This seems quite beyond the pale," said Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University. "It seems that during most of these previous (shutdown) episodes, an agreement was in theory within reach, because the players were at the table. The previous shutdowns tended to occur in the midst of negotiations. That doesn't seem to be the case this time."
Louis Fisher, who has specialized in separation of powers over more than 30 years at the Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress said he was "shocked" when he first saw what he now recognizes as a foreshadowing of today's crisis, when Republican senators refused for two years to confirm Richard Cordray - or anyone else, for that matter - to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless President Obama agreed to change the bureau's structure. "That's really amazing, to say you're not going to confirm unless the underlying statute or law is rewritten. That's breathtaking to me."
Rachel Maddow, on her Sept. 25 show, insisted that the blame lies not just with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who has made a spectacle of himself in his crusade to defund health care. The entire Republican Party, she said, is responsible for the crisis.
"They are saying they blame the situation on Ted Cruz," she said. "And it's a brilliant idea, because that guy sort of wants to be blamed."
She played clips of other Congressional Republicans who criticized Cruz's efforts to get Obamacare defunded in order to aviod a government shutdown.
"Sure, blame it on Ted Cruz, the fraud, shutdown is a terrible idea," she said. "You know what, Peter King, Tom Cole? If you guys think it is such a bad idea to shut down the government, why did you both vote for it? Why did you vote to shut down the government when you got a chance to vote for it last week? The Republican vote for a shutdown was 228-1 and neither of you guys were the one."