In case you somehow missed the news, the U.S. government has entered shutdown mode. Congressional Republicans held up negotiations over the federal budget because Democrats wouldn’t delay part of the Affordable Care Act. At 12:01 Eastern time, since a budget had not been passed, the government shut down.
Here’s what’s happening. A Democratic president pushed for a bill that would make healthcare far more affordable for Americans. The bill was written, democratically. It passed, democratically. It received the support of the American people. It was even ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.
At this point, the Affordable Care Act is law. It is undeniably, unequivocally, without a doubt law. This is how our government works. When something has passed all of those hurdles–hell, even half of them, usually–it becomes law. Done.
But the Republicans aren’t happy with it. House Republicans are so unhappy with it that they’ve tried now at least 40 different times to repeal it, spending an estimated 15% of all of their time on the floor focusing on repeal of this law. And now they’re holding the economy and the paychecks of 800,000 federal employees hostage over it.
The shutdown means a lot of other things–national parks closing, passport applications likely not being processed–but I’m going to focus on the 800,000 federal employees, because I think they’re the center of the Republicans’ political strategy here.
And what an absolutely fucked-up political strategy it is.
The Hostage Strategy
House Republicans are holding a gun to the paychecks of 800,000 people, not to mention the entire U.S. economy, all because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act. It’s a massive hostage situation–“Delay Obamacare or the American people get it.” But unlike any hostage situation you’ll ever see on TV, House Republicans have a chance of sympathetic PR, and that’s what they’re banking on.
It is going to hurt 800,000 people to not receive their paycheck this month. It’ll hurt more if the shutdown continues longer, god forbid. And the Republican party is banking on that moment when the conversation shifts from “What the fuck are you doing, Republicans?” to “Jesus, Democrats, stop being so stubborn about this!”
And when that happens–when we accept that the Republicans’ bullying is an unwavering force of nature–we lose. Not just Democrats. The whole American public loses, because we will have proven that bullying, threatening, and downright refusing to do your job is an effective legislative tactic. We’ll have added a step to the legislative process: make it past the obstinate thugs who’ll shut down the country unless they like your law.
As my dad often says, my crystal ball is pretty cloudy, but I think America is liberalizing. We’re hardly a utopia of leftist social values, but I think it’s reasonable to predict that as Millennials come to power, support for progressive causes like legalization of marijuana, equal rights for LGBTQ folks (not just marriage equality), universal healthcare, and comprehensive sex-ed will surge. But if House Republicans’ bullying tactic works, it’ll grant them tacit license to do it again whenever they don’t like a democratically passed law. It’ll give the waning bastion of social conservatives in the legislature a form of veto power.
This is a perversion of the democratic process. We cannot allow this to work.
How to Not Negotiate with Terrorists
This strategy hinges on PR. Republicans are waiting for the conversation to turn, for their actions to become normalized and accepted and for Democrats’ to seem unreasonable. In order to fight it, we have to do the opposite.
Call out this thuggish behavior. Criticize the Republicans responsible. Remind yourself and those you know that none of this is inevitable or necessary–that Republicans and Republicans alone are responsible for making unreasonable and ruthless demands.
I recognize it’s easy for me to talk about lofty political ideals when my paycheck isn’t on the line. But if this shutdown is averted by Democrats caving to the Republicans’ demands, then 800,000 federal workers’ paychecks will get funded this time–while opening the door to this sort of abuse and threatening in the future. I don’t want toying with the economy and federal employees’ livelihoods to become a new entry in the playbook of the Republican party.
It’s so undeniably shitty that a small group of politicians would use the paychecks of 800,000 people as a political bargaining piece. If you have friends, family members, or members of your community who are being hurt by this, please help them however you can. If you’re being hurt by this, then I’m so very sorry.
The U.S. economy and American citizens are being held hostage. Speak out, take care of one another, and don’t let anyone forget who’s pointing the gun.