Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Government "Shutdown" Is Business As Usual.

Hey, remember sequestration? You know... that "austerity program" where "budget cuts" forced the closure of all sorts of government agencies because the Government projected a mere $110 billion more to spend than they had before.

Yeah... that was tough, wasn't it? Right up until the point when people noticed that the Administration was deliberately making a Big Deal out of nothing, and were directing agencies to make their "cuts" as deliberately painful as possible.

OK, so last Monday the House of Representatives passed a budget with two amendments: one would delay Obamacare for a year. The other amendment repeals the ACA's medical device tax. As per rules, the bill then goes back to the Senate. The Senate and the House hash out the differences between their versions in a joint committee and come up with a compromise bill that both can pass. Here's a nice infographic:

How Does a Bill Become a Law?

Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

This is normal operating procedure. Happens all the time. Remember Schoolhouse Rock?

BILL: "I'm gonna go to the House of Representatives and they're gonna vote on me."
BOY: "If they vote yes, what happens?"
BILL: "Well, then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again."
That's the part of the song that Jon Stewart skipped over when he was mugging for the camera. So while the vast majority of the media are frothing over the Republicans "being responsible" for the "shutdown", the plain fact of the matter is that they passed a budget. They actually did what they were supposed to do. The ball's in the Senate's court, and they have refused to play. They could negotiate with the House so that one of the amendments is adopted, or perhaps there's an adjustment of the delay, or on any number of points, but they refuse.

Now we already know that the Administration is neither philosophically nor practically averse to a delay. They did it themselves, without Congress' intervention. By Executive Order, President Obama delayed the Employer Mandate for one year. The interesting part here is that if your employer DOES offer insurance, you're not eligible for subsidies on the healthcare exchange. For instance, I'm not eligible. My son is. But that requirement is already delayed a year by the President himself, so it's not clear what would happen if you signed up now. By unilaterally delaying part of the law, the President has changed it without Congress' approval. So the Democrats' insistence that there be "no changes" falls flat. Too late, it's done.

Nevertheless, it's a law, passed and signed. Delaying it seems  like dirty pool to the Democrats, despite the fact that they already did that very same thing to key provisions.

So, due to some recalcitrance we can rightly blame on BOTH Houses (sorry, all you rabid partisan dogs, but it's fact), we now have a "government shutdown", which isn't a shutdown either. There's plenty of "government" still up and running.

How can a government "shut down"?

I have friends in other countries that are doubtless wondering how the HELL a government can shut down. That's because they live in a parliamentary system. In that form of government, the leader (usually a "Prime Minister" or "Chancellor") is selected by the party in power. If the Parliament can't reach agreement on a budget, then this triggers an election and they "form a new government". It's a system designed to make it easy to "govern".

The United States doesn't "form a new government". We never even think of it in those terms. We put new people in the same seats. The Administration may change, the Congress may change, but the Government is the Government. And the President is chosen in a completely different election from the Houses (the House of Representatives and the Senate). They have to agree on our Supreme Court Justices, most of which were chosen in previous decades by prior administrations. ALL of these bodies have different term lengths. A Supreme Court Justice serves for life; the President for four years; a Senator for six years. The House of Representatives has an election every two years, and is thus most responsive to the current will of the People. However, Representatives have the smallest constituency. Our whole system is deliberately and famously designed as a series of "checks and balances" in a conscious effort to make it DIFFICULT to govern. Each branch of our government is deliberately intended to limit the others.

That's because Americans don't want to be "governed". At least, they didn't when the Constitution written. Some of us still don't want it. We would rather govern ourselves to the maximum extent practicable. There has since been a great deal of indoctrination by the Left to push Big Government, even as the Right resists it (on paper, anyway). But to change that, they'd have to change the Constitution.

In any case, if the two Houses can't come to an agreement on the budget, then they don't have authorization to pay employees, and send them home. Whether they actually have money isn't an issue... we haven't had money for YEARS. Nevertheless, they've structured things so that "essential" services keep on running. Meaning, of course, that the things that shut down are non-essential by definition.

Anyway, back to the Constitution. I watched a bit of video where the Republicans were on the Capitol steps explaining what they had done and asking, if this was such an emergency, why the Senate took the day off. There was a woman bicyclist screaming at the top of her lungs (the fun starts at about 1:35) that OBAMA was elected by the American people, not that Congresswoman she was addressing, and that OBAMA was there do the will of the people...

... as if that Congresswoman had not been elected. More recently, too. She is doing what she was elected to do, representing her constituents and delivering on her campaign promises. The folks who are up in arms about "Congress" "not doing their jobs" aren't really showing off the best side of the American education system... they don't know much about civics. Congressmen are elected to represent constituencies, NOT their parties, and NOT the Nation. I don't like partisan grandstanding, but I can't begrudge any Congressman doing what he was elected to do. It's through arguing and conflict that compromises are reached, and that IS their job. And yup, all these different elections with different scopes in different years result in clashes, because that's what our system does. Of course, this bicyclist shouting on the steps doesn't really care about that. She wants what she wants, and is frustrated that she doesn't have a magic genie who can provide it for her yesterday. Of course, she got the camera stuck in her face. Ignorance is "good TV".

Frankly, she doesn't have my sympathy. When I see people declaiming the benefits of dictatorial rule, then I'm very, very glad that we have a system that makes it bloody difficult to do anything really big. That means that it takes a lot of agreement to make those changes. Again, it's a deliberate construction, to thwart the tyranny of the majority.

The system is what it is. We've had seventeen (17) "shutdowns" in my lifetime resulting in a cumulative total of one hundred and ten (110) days of government downtime. The world goes on. Eventually someone will blink and the situation will be resolved. Whether that comes sooner rather than later has historically depended upon leadership from the White House.

This just in from the New York Times
(received just as I finished writing this)

Yup. He won't negotiate the budget until the budget is passed. As previously noted, the House did pass such a bill. Now the House of Representatives is working on emergency funding bills which have already been rejected in advance by the White House.  This little back-and-forth is reminiscent of the situation just days ago when the Senate leader would only meet in a joint conference committee IF the House passed a "clean" bill... i.e., one that doesn't require a joint committee. That's just stupid.

Y'know that stuff I just said about leadership from the White House? 

Forget it.

I get more than a little bit pissed-off when the guy sitting in the Oval Office forgets that he's addressing a branch of government of equal stature with his own. I suspect that for a lot of Americans, this will not work in Obama's favor. I, for one, would be quite content if the House stopped working on every "emergency" spending bill and just said, "We gave you a budget. You say you want those non-essential government functions re-opened so bad? Prove it." 

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