Government Shutdown 2013: It Was a Conspiracy, Not a Blunder


The controversy over the debt ceiling and the proposed repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is being portrayed by the media as Republicans and Democrats doing what they have always done, disagreeing. This view paints a picture of business as usual in Washington, even though the GOP's negotiating chip is without precedent: the threat of blocking the government's ability to meet its financial obligations over opposition to a single social program. Making the situation all the more ominous is the possibility that the failure of the nation to meet its financial obligations could bring down the already fragile U.S. economy.

How did the debt-ceiling issue come to pose such an onerous possibility? The answer is not even close to the blame game currently portrayed in the media where both sides are at fault or the generally held view that the impasse was generated spontaneously. Instead, what the media has been playing down as just another Republican-Democratic congressional deadlock was actually orchestrated not by members of Congress but by a handful of strategists on the far right who marshaled the efforts of dozens of conservative organizations.

According to an investigative report that appeared as the lead story in this past Sunday's New York Times, the plan to use the debt ceiling as a ploy to repeal Obamacare originated in a meeting between the following figures on the far right:

-David Koch, the billionaire who founded the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity and also helped fund the start-up of the Tea Party movement.

-Michael A. Needham, head of Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank.

-Edwin Meese II, the Reagan-era attorney general who at the time of the meeting headed the Conservative Action Project.

The three reportedly met in February of this year to develop strategies for killing the president's health care reform law. Their discussions resulted in a blueprint that proposed a "take-no-prisoners" legislative strategy. The plan, eventually signed by Meese and representatives of more than 30 groups on the political right, called for pressuring the GOP's membership and leadership in the House of Representatives to push for the repeal of Obamacare. Their aim was to threaten Democrats with cutting off all funding for the federal government, even if a total shutdown might lead to default.

The Times article was based on interviews with many of the principals behind the scheme. The report also outlined the activities of the various political groups involved and the hundreds of millions of dollars they have anted up in support of the cause. Some examples, nearly all of which can be confirmed independently on the internet:

-David Koch and his brother Charles, the billionaires who helped fund the start-up of the Tea Party movement in 2009, are tied to the group Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Freedom Partners disbursed more than $200 million last year to far-right organizations involved in opposing Obamacare. Over the past three months, the group itself spent $5.5 million on television commercials attacking the health care law. However, that's a pittance compared with the $115 million Freedom Partners donated to Protect Patient Rights, the leading anti-Obamacare group.

-Generation Opportunity, a conservative youth group that received $5 million in funding from Freedom Partners, spent $750,000 in September on an internet ad showing Uncle Sam appearing between a young woman's legs during a gynecological exam. The 60-second ad has had more than 2 million hits on YouTube alone.

-Needham's Heritage Action ran internet ads in the congressional districts of 100 Republican incumbents who had failed to sign on to a letter supporting defunding. The letter, written by Republican freshman Rep. Mark Meadows,  a Tea Party member, had been circulated by FreedomWorks, another prominent conservative group tied to the Koch Brothers.

-Heritage Action recruited 6,000 volunteers for a series of town hall meetings held in August, training them on how to confront Republican legislators over the health care law.

-Tea Party Patriots, a Washington-based group, created a defunding "tool kit" that included samples of letters to editors, Facebook comments, and Twitter remarks, such as "Obamacare is a train wreck."

On this last count, the "train wreck" characterization used by everyone from Texas freshman Senator Ted Cruz to House Speaker John Boehner turns out to be just another part of the public-relations campaign to derail the health care law before it left the station. However, the potential disaster that the far-right has countenanced poses a much more serious concern than a collision between medical insurance reform and people's health care interests. True, Obamacare could prove a failure on several fronts, but its worst-case scenarios could be rectified through legislative and administrative changes. The effect of failing to pay our nation's bills is a different matter. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the economic catastrophe left in the wake of a default could take a generation to repair.