Let's Stop Pretending Both Sides Are to Blame For This Shutdown


The most tiresome cliché when it comes to the government shutdown and general dysfunction in Washington is saying that both parties are at fault and blaming both sides for their unwillingness to compromise. The notion that both sides are deserving of equal blame is a very dangerous idea to perpetuate because not only does it turn people off from the political process and make a fed up public more cynical, but it’s misguided and fundamentally dishonest.

The blame for the current government shutdown falls on one faction of one party of one chamber of one branch of government, who have held government funding hostage because they are upset that they could not repeal one law through traditional democratic means. That faction is the Tea Party members of Congress, and that law is the Affordable Care Act.

It is the job of Congress to pass a budget, but since they haven't been able to pass one in some time, they've funded the government with stopgap measures known as Continuing Resolutions. The last Continuing Resolution was passed on March 28 and funded the government through September 30. 

September 30 was also the eve of the day the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges go live, where people can shop around for health insurance plans in online marketplaces. Republicans have long opposed the exchanges going live, mostly because once the exchanges go up and people start enrolling, Obamacare will be nearly impossible to repeal.

In August, 80 Tea Party affiliated members of the House signed a letter that they sent to Speaker Boehner, demanding that he refuse to pass a spending bill unless Obamacare is defunded. So Boehner did just that.

The House's inability to pass a clean Continuing Resolution plunged our country into the first government shutdown in more than 17 years. House Republicans have since backed off from demanding the complete defunding of Obamacare as a precondition to keeping the government funded and are instead demanding, among other things, a year delay in the individual mandate (the end goal being ultimately to get rid of the law).

Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have refused to compromise on this, and rightfully so. There is no reason Obama should have to make concessions on his signature legislative achievement as a precondition for funding the government for weeks at a time, especially after he was comfortably reelected while campaigning on full implementation of the health care law. If a law is passed with majorities in both chambers of Congress, signed by the president, and it is upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is law. Our system of government is set up where if a law clears all institutional hurdles and a party still does not like that law, they have to campaign on it and win an election that would put them in a position to repeal it.

But since Republicans lost the last election, they have resorted to hostage-taking. It is not the Senate that is shutting down the government. They passed a clean Continuing Resolution. It is not Obama that is shutting down the government. He's asking for something that should not and historically has not required concessions of any kind. In fact, one could argue that the Senate's clean Continuing Resolution is already a compromise.

This shutdown is the result of the Republican leadership caving to the extremist elements of their party, and the fear among many rank-and-file Republicans of being ousted by a Tea Party primary challenge for doing their job and compromising to responsibly help govern the country. This is not the fault of both sides, but the intransigence of one faction of one side. This is an attempt to essentially nullify the results of last year's election, and cripple the government because a minority's will was not imposed on the majority.

By not caving to Republican's demands, Obama is not only defending his health care law. He's defending the health of our democracy.