On the brink: Republicans hold the world to ransom


The economic forecast for this month: hazy, with a chance of disaster.


The United States has been forced to shut down its government due to an ideological battle being fought in Congress. Congress needed to pass a new budget yesterday, before the controversial Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) came into effect on 1 October, to avoid a government shutdown. Republicans in the House of Representatives have joined together, and are refusing to pass a budget without the additional stipulation that the implementation of Obamacare be delayed by a year.

The government shutdown, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. The US is predicted to reach the debt ceiling by 17 October, maxing out the amount the treasury is allowed to borrow. House Republicans, however, have said that they won’t approve an increase in the debt ceiling unless a series of their demands are met, including a delay in the implementation of Obamacare and approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

While the Senate, the upper house of Congress, has a Democratic majority, the House of Representatives, the lower house, has a Republican majority. Republicans in the House have used this majority to wield power over the Senate and President by refusing to pass critical legislation without major concessions from the Democrats—concessions almost never reciprocated by the Republicans. The governmental shutdown means that more than 700,000 federal employees will temporarily be jobless. National parks and forests will shut down, and there will be severe delays in the processing of visa applications, mortgage applications and gun permits, amongst others. It is only thanks to the president’s timely intervention that 1.4 million US troops will continue to receive their pay cheques during the shutdown.

Failing to raise the debt ceiling, meanwhile, would almost certainly damage the global economy, with the IMF suggesting that a US credit default could lower global growth by up to 0.5%. Furthermore, it would increase instability in an already volatile international market. Global stock markets have already begun to fall over the course of the past week, and most experienced massive falls today due to the news from America. According to IMF spokesman Gerry Rice, the effect of a US debt default on the global economy could be “catastrophic”.

This is not how representative government is supposed to work. “Government,” according to Thomas Jefferson, “exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors”. The behaviour of House Republicans certainly indicates that they disagree with one of their beloved Founding Fathers. Former US vice-president Al Gore described the Republican threats of government shutdown as “political terrorism”. The Republican position, in Gore’s words, is effectively: “we have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ‘em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.” Gore’s analysis is both scathing and accurate.

Congress, and in particular the House Republicans, are not acting in the best interests of anyone by making unreasonable demands in order to pass the budget and raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans are effectively sabotaging the legislative process: by refusing to sign the budget or raise the debt ceiling unless their demands are met, they are holding the income of millions of Americans and the global economy hostage. Despite Republican protests that Obamacare is unconstitutional, their manipulation of the legislative process is certainly not in the spirit of the Constitution. The system of checks and balances that requires both houses of Congress to approve of legislation was designed to prevent tyranny, not enable it.

Obamacare is, in fact, entirely constitutional. It went through the constitutionally required process of approval to be enacted into law, was declared by the US Supreme Court as being constitutional in June 2012, and 42 subsequent attempts by House Republicans to defund or repeal Obamacare have failed to gain Senate approval. Obamacare has no relevance to the budget debate, as the funds for its implementation are not dependent on the Congressional budget process. House Republicans are simply upset that they didn’t get their way, and are using any means they can to try to extort their fellow lawmakers into doing what they want.

A recent New York Times survey has shown that 56% of Americans approve of Obamacare, nearly 75% disapprove of Republican representatives in Congress, and 80% would find a government shutdown unacceptable. The beauty of democracy is that the Congressmen who put their own ideological beliefs about the size and scope of government ahead of the interests of their constituents and the American people, can be held accountable for their actions come the next election cycle. I, for one, hope they are.

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  1. The thing I’m mad about is that government treats their workers different than the rest of the country. When the government opens, everyone will receive back pay but people who need assistance are put on hold. Children and elderly people who receive meals from the government are affected while members of the House of Representatives are on an overpaid holiday. The federal government wastes money like it’s their job. My cousin worked for the government and not only are they paying her tuition to get her masters degree but they’re also paying her salary for a year. The way my government spends money on themselves makes me sick. But I did read that 50+ members of Congress are either donating or refusing their paycheck a during the government shut down, at least some government workers have a spine.

  2. Jefferson, huh? This Jefferson?

    ‘There are two measures which if not taken, we are undone.

    1st. to check these unconstitutional invasions of state rights by the federal judiciary. How? not by impeachment in the first instance, but by a strong protestation of both houses of Congress that such and such doctrines, advanced by the supreme court, are contrary to the constitution: and if afterwards they relapse into the same heresies, impeach and set the whole adrift. For what was the government divided into three branches, but that each should watch over the others, and oppose their usurpations?

    2. To cease borrowing money & to pay off the national debt. If this cannot be done without dismissing the army & putting the ships out of commission, haul them up high and dry, and reduce the army to the lowest point at which it was ever established. There does not exist an engine so corruptive of the government and so demoralizing of the nation as a public debt. It will bring on us more ruin at home than all the enemies from abroad against whom this army and navy are to protect us.’ (Letter to Nathaniel Macon, Aug. 19, 1821 from Monticello)

    To use Jefferson to buttress a point in favour of increased national debt is at worst intellectual dishonesty and at best ignorance. As for the argument that this is somehow the public will, I shall leave these here.

    If the aim of the writer is to argue that such a move would be in “the public interest” -despite- its divergence with public opinion, I will still disagree but at least accept the argument. To argue this on the grounds of ‘representation’, however, is beyond misleading, as the will of the public is in fact to the contrary. Furthermore, the use of Jefferson to support the very institution he fought against until his death misrepresents the man and dishonours his legacy, whether or not one personally agrees with Jeffersonian democracy.

    Incidentally, when President Obama was a senator in opposition, he very eloquently observed (on March 16, 2006):

    ‘Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem.

    The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.

    Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is ‘‘trillion’’ with a ‘‘T.’’ That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. …

    Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

    I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit’


    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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