Government: Closed until further notice

Herb Boyd | 10/3/2013, 12:43 p.m.
As the government shutdown begins, a number of questions arise, such as how long will it last, who’s to blame ...
government shutdown

As the government shutdown begins, a number of questions arise, such as how long will it last, who’s to blame and how does this impact the ordinary American?

How long will it last and to what degree a closed government will affect folks outside the beltway are the most troubling questions. As to whom to blame, well, that depends on who is being asked. President Barack Obama blames the House Republicans and told the nation on Monday that despite GOP efforts to defund his health care plan, he was moving forward. “You can’t shut it down,” he said of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

But on Tuesday morning in the nation’s capital, the closed signs were already being attached to various buildings, and it has been announced that some 800,000 government workers will be asked to stay at home, with another 2.5 million reporting to work without pay.

“The federal government is America’s largest employer,” the president said. “These Americans are our neighbors.”

When a few of these neighbors were asked about whom to blame, according to a recent survey conducted by CNN, 46 percent said the Republicans are at fault. Thirty-six percent blamed Obama, and 13 percent said the Republicans and Obama were equally to blame.

Not since 1995 has the government experienced such a crisis, and back then, it was a showdown between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich over Medicare funding, the environment, public health and the 1996 federal budget. Like the current impasse, nonessential government workers were furloughed, and nonssential services were suspended from Nov. 14 to Nov. 19, and again from Dec. 16 to Jan. 6, 1996.

After it was over, Clinton’s ratings rose, but the Republicans in the House also claimed gains, particularly in the 1996 election, where they retained a majority in the House and gained two seats in the Senate.

The American public is flummoxed over the inability of lawmakers to agree to at least a short-term plan that will keep the government up and running, but it boils down to the reluctance of conservative Republicans, fearful of blowback from the tea party, to accept a Senate proposal free of defunding Obamacare. And therein lies the rub. In the game of brinkmanship, the nation is waiting to see who will blink first. Will the president and the Senate—for the sake of keeping the government from being shut down too long and thereby endangering the welfare of millions of Americans—accede to Republican intransigence, or will the Republicans feel the wrath of the people and concede and at the same time claim they are the good guys?

Meanwhile, senior citizens and retirees need not worry at the moment about whether their Social Security checks will arrive on time, as none of the closures will halt the mail and other essential agencies, but we are only weeks away from another showdown on the debt ceiling and an imminent default, and that could be even more cataclysmic than the present deadlock.