It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And, as long as Congress refuses to do its job and vote to spend the money necessary to run the federal government, people will get hurt.
The economic damage that is rippling through the economy, the result of furloughed workers and closed national parks, along with the human damage caused by shuttered cancer trials, nutrition programs and Head Start classes, falls the hardest on the powerless and the poor. But the small faction of reactionary Republicans who are holding up the appropriation process are not only oblivious to that fact, they are apparently motivated by it.
That’s because their primary reason for these irresponsible behaviors — led, in part, by Utah’s own Sen. Mike Lee and abetted by Reps. Chris Stewart, Jason Chaffetz, Rob Bishop and even Democrat Jim Matheson — is an obsession with bringing down the Affordable Care Act. And that is a goal which would also harm the poor and powerless while sparing the rich and insured.
The short-term damage caused by the shutdown is serious. The long-term harm of ending the ACA, with nothing on the horizon to replace it, would be unforgivable. Which is why President Obama and other Democrats are right not to capitulate to the hostage-taking demands of the tea party faction.
Into this fray have jumped some ad hoc coalitions of some more or less responsible people looking for a deal, something allowing a reasonable bit of face-saving and credit-claiming, to get out of this unnecessary mess.
And one of the leaders of one of these compromises is, reassuringly, Utah’s Matheson. Yes, the same Matheson who not that long ago was voting just as his once and future opponent, Republican Mia Love, would have voted on resolutions that would have defunded the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, as a condition of avoiding the shutdown.
By the end of the week, though, Matheson had joined a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans with a plan to fund the government for another six months while making one relatively small change to Obamacare. It would remove a controversial tax on medical devices, part of what was supposed to pay for the expansion of insurance to some of the millions who now lack it, and make up the difference with some small tweaks to other parts of the program.
Such a plan might give political cover to enough Republicans, allowing them to say they had taken a bite out of Obamacare as a concession for reopening the government. Let’s hope that gambit, or something like it, works. And soon.