Caracotsios: Obamacare is not worth a government shutdown

Julian Caracotsios, Columnist
September 23, 2013 •

At the moment, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish political infighting in Washington from the trenches of northern France in World War I — and this next round of the congressional budget wars only ups the ante in this exercise of futility.

For those of you who missed the news, House Republicans have — once again — threatened a shutdown of the federal government. Because Congress has been unable to agree on the federal budget, temporary funding bills are required to keep the wheels turning. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed such a bill, with just a minor catch: It strips funding from the Affordable Care Act. Of course, Senate Democrats will shoot the bill down, and then we’re back to playing chicken dangerously close to the railroad tracks once again.

A shutdown of the federal government would not be a pretty sight to see. According to the BBC, it “would delay pay for federal workers, including some military members, send non-essential employees home, close national parks and shut passport offices.” Although “programmes like air traffic control, food inspection and the US border agency would keep running,” many of the functions of the federal government that we take for granted would cease to operate.

But the logistical nightmare isn’t even the beginning of it. In 2011, the U.S. almost saw such a shutdown that was not only a public embarrassment but also carried serious economic consequences. On Aug. 5 of that year, after months of congressional fighting, Standard & Poor’s lowered the U.S. credit rating for the first time, bringing it down from the top “AAA” rating to “AA+.”  The credit rating of a nation’s debt, among other things, reflects faith in the stability of a country’s economy and political leadership.

It’s also worth mentioning the shutdown is slated to happen Oct. 1. If a near shutdown was so calamitous, I don’t think any of us want to see what the actual thing would be like, but it will be here in a week if something isn’t done quickly.

The astounding part of this event — as if there were only one — is that the GOP is risking the economic recovery of this nation over the Affordable Care Act. Admittedly, health care is an issue of enormous importance, but it is also an issue plagued by uncertainty.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” is a piece of legislation so vast and complicated that it would be beyond me to debate all of its strengths and weaknesses. As a matter of fact, it’s unlikely that even the experts will be able to assert definitively whether or not it is sound policy. As for the nation as a whole, I think it’s safe to say that Americans will never agree about the role of government in the health care industry — or at least not any time in the near future.

We are inherently operating under conditions of uncertainty in which we would all do well to be humble. However, our politicians are stubbornly playing a high-stakes game of brinksmanship in the eleventh hour with unjustified boldness.

Although stubbornness, foolishness and a general inability to compromise are found on both sides of the aisle, Republicans now – as in 2011 — are using especially dirty political tactics. Love it or hate it, Obamacare is just not worth what the GOP has wagered on it.

Our leaders have an obligation to serve the nation, not their respective parties’ ideologies. What the Republicans are doing is, in effect, wagering the well-being of the entire country in order to propagate their own political agenda. Heads, the GOP wins. Tails, we all lose. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, this behavior is inappropriate for our nation’s leaders.

Julian Caracotsios is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached juliancaracotsios2014@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.edu. 

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