With a vote of 230-189, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a continuing budget resolution Friday morning that would fund government operations for the next 90 days, but as promised by GOP members, stripped out any money devoted to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Though the outcome of the vote was not a surprise, with the budget issue now heading to the Senate, the events on Capitol Hill over the budget further expose the "unprecedented" hostage-taking tactics of a Republican Party that has made economic denialism and political obstructionism its guiding principles since the current economic crisis began in late 2007 and which it has maintained throughout the Obama presidency.
"Forget the GOP’s attempt to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act. Who is going to explain to the American people how profoundly misguided, and even immoral, the Republicans’ entire economic agenda has become?" –Richard Eskow, Campaign for America's Future
And even as many perceive a "civil war" within the Republican Party over how to deal with budget issues or battle their Democratic rivals, nothing in that narrative betrays the degree to which the GOP continues to march in lock-step when it comes to pushing austerity economic policies that insulate society's richest while pushing draconian cuts to programs and services that help workers, the elderly, the young, and the sick.
Calling it a "victory for America" and a "victory for common sense," Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) emerged after Friday's vote to celebrate the House budget resolution. He was greeted with cheers from his caucus members.
Critics and commentators, however, say the Republican obsession with defunding Obamacare (today's vote was their 42nd attempt to do so) and an expected repeat of the political battle over raising "the debt ceiling" (which could happen within a matter of weeks) are parts of a single ploy by the GOP to overcome their minority status in Washington by sabotaging the government's ability to accomplish almost anything.
As economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes:
...at the moment, it seems highly likely that the Republican Party will refuse to fund the government, forcing a shutdown at the beginning of next month, unless President Obama dismantles the health reform that is the signature achievement of his presidency. Republican leaders realize that this is a bad idea, but, until recently, their notion of preaching moderation was to urge party radicals not to hold America hostage over the federal budget so they could wait a few weeks and hold it hostage over the debt ceiling instead. Now they’ve given up even on that delaying tactic. The latest news is that John Boehner, the speaker of the House, has abandoned his efforts to craft a face-saving climbdown on the budget, which means that we’re all set for shutdown, possibly followed by debt crisis.
And though many progressives may criticize Obamacare on their own terms—with many citing the blatant giveaway to private insurers embodied in the law and the failure of Democrats to embrace the idea of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all solution to the healthcare crisis—most also recognize that the legislation will, in fact, deliver positive improvements to vulnerable segments of the population, such as expanding the Medicaid program and limiting some of the worst abuses of the private insurers.
And Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post, argues that even if the law is seriously flawed, "it would be wrong to let a bunch of extremist ideologues hold the country hostage in this manner."
"If Republicans want to repeal the reforms," Robinson continued, "they should win the Senate and the presidency. If not, they’re welcome to pout and sulk all they want — but not to use extortion to get their way."
But the problem is certainly bigger than Obamacare, say others.
For Dave Johnson and Richard Eskow, both from the Campaign for America's Future, the larger budget war in Congress—in which the fight over Obamacare and the debt ceiling are battles—simply exposes just how radical and extreme the Republican Party has become in recent years.
"Forget the debt ceiling for a moment, if you can," wrote Eskow just ahead of Friday's vote. "Forget the GOP’s attempt to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act. Who is going to explain to the American people how profoundly misguided, and even immoral, the Republicans’ entire economic agenda has become?"
Johnson says that a look at the budget that the House Republicans passed this morning expresses much more about the current GOP agenda than their well-documented hatred for Obama's healthcare law:
The budget in this resolution would be devastating to the economy, especially on top of the cuts that have already hurt the economy and crippled the recovery. A government shutdown would also be devastating to the economy. But even the threat itself hurts the economy, as people and companies pull back and hold off as they wait to see what happens. Past budget fights have proven this – bringing increases in unemployment and reductions in economic growth.
On top of this, Republicans are cutting $40 billion from the SNAP program. So on one hand, they propagandize that the “Obama economy” is hurting people, and then they cut assistance to the people who are hurting, claiming they don’t really need it.
Probably at least 47 percent of Americans would be seriously hurt by either – but we already know how Republicans feel about 47 percent of Americans, don’t we?
And Eskow adds:
If the GOP’s Continuing Resolution is adopted, more cuts will follow: Head Start and the heating-assistance program will suffer further cuts. Education funds for low-income children and the disabled will be slashed. Not that the Republicans are entirely ungenerous: Their plan increases spending for defense by $20 billion, most of which will wind up in the pockets of wealthy defense contractors.
That’s the cruelty in the Republican economic plan. Then there’s the stupidity. The Congressional Budget Office has already estimated that sequestration cuts will cost the economy 900,000 jobs and shrink our national economy by 0.7 percent.
And what economist Dean Baker takes from a Congressional Budget Office report this week is that the austerity drive Republicans are calling for is exactly the wrong medicine that the ailing economy demands. The U.S. has as "a tax problem, not a spending problem" Baker concluded, explaining how the CBO report predicts a decline in healthcare costs in the coming years under the new law, while specifying that The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (in which Republicans negotiated to make permanent most of the Bush tax cuts) was the main cause for much of the projected fall in budget revenue.
Additionally, according to Johnson, if Republicans think their proposed austerity cuts are "necessary because of government deficits and debt," they clearly didn't see or ignored a "report released this week by the National Priorities Project [showing] that the country is handing more than $1 trillion per year to the already-wealthy."
But if Baker is correct and spending is not the problem, says Johnson, what the U.S. economy needs is "investment in infrastructure and education so our economy can thrive in the future, and we need stimulus now to get people working. If you want to worry about deficit and debt, then tax cuts are the problem."
Astride all this, however, continues to be what some describe as a "civil war" within the GOP. In this argument, what are described as "more moderate" members—specifically represented by Republicans in the Senate—are in a pitched internal battle of wills over political strategy, if not ideology, with what Krugman describes as the "Frankenstein-like monster" the GOP themselves created, otherwise known as the Tea Party.
Whether or not the narrative of this internal tension inside the GOP is accurate or not, what does seem clear to most observers is that the level of obstruction now in Washington has brought the legislative process to an almost complete halt.
Though some lawmakers might ultimately pay the price for their behavior at the hands of an increasingly frustrated public, in the meantime it will continue to be the American economy and the population at large made to suffer as the madness of the Republican Party looks to outshine all other performances in Washington over the coming days, weeks, and months.