Their latest fight over the act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, has a new loser: the American people.
Budget gridlock in Washington, D.C., has been painted as the latest example of extreme partisan politics gone astray. But a closer example of the situation shows that the fight is more about Republicans trying to derail a program that has already been approved by lawmakers, signed by the president and upheld as constitutional by the courts.
House Republicans, led by Majority Leader John Boehner but driven primarily by members of the tea party, threw up a major roadblock to any true budget talks as the clock ticked down toward a government shutdown. To avoid that, the federal government needed to either pass a new budget or extend the current one for six weeks. Instead, the House Republicans would not budge on their spending bill that would have delayed for one year the Affordable Care Act taking effect.
The Democratic-controlled Senate and White House were right to balk at the ambush tactic. The debate about the federal budget should have been about other spending measures, not the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans’ tired argument is that the act is forcing the government to spend millions on implementation of the law.
That is actually true. But the long-term savings in the health system that will result from nearly all Americans having access to affordable health insurance will help right the trajectory of the wasted millions that go into emergency health care in this country.
The Republicans’ argument is shortsighted and now it has the double effect of causing short-term economic pains. On Tuesday, the government furloughed more than 800,000 federal workers. The loss of work for those is just the beginning because the ripple effect on the economy will be greater.
For instance, there are the federal parks that are now closed, and in San Francisco that means several tourist areas, including Alcatraz Island, Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach. The loss of Alcatraz means the boats that ferry passengers to and from the former federal penitentiary will not run, fewer workers will be needed and less fuel will be purchased.
The multiplier effect of the federal spending cuts has the potential to cause an economic ripple throughout the country just as the economy is stabilizing from the global downturn.
The talking points around the federal shutdown will surely include the unwillingness of Democrats to negotiate on the Affordable Care Act, but that needs to remain a nonstarter. The real discussion needs to focus on the unwillingness of Republicans to accept that Obamacare is starting in January and to move ahead with the budget talks to get the government back open and much-needed money flowing again.