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.