Government Shutdown, Another Episode in “Budget Wars”

At the stroke of midnight on October 1, the workings of the U.S. government will grind to a halt. That is, unless a deeply dysfunctional Congress fuels it with yet another stopgap measure to tide it over for a couple of months.

Technically, when the fiscal year runs out on September 30, the government doesn’t have the legal authority to spend money unless the House and Senate agree on an appropriations bill and the President signs it.

The Republican party is using the budget process to attack the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare–a bill so nauseating to them that the Republican-controlled House has voted to repeal it forty times.

Their latest blackmail offer is to withhold funding unless Obamacare’s individual mandate–a requirement that certain people purchase health insurance–is delayed by one year.

President Obama and Democrats, however, are blasting the GOP for holding the country hostage to their radically conservative base. They are pushing for a “clean” Continuing Resolution. The Senate is certain to reject spending bills with healthcare funding conditions. The clock is ticking. A shutdown is bound to ensue.

Congress is so dysfunctional and so derelict in its duty that it hasn’t passed a budget for real since 1997. The closest thing to it was an Omnibus Spending Bill in April 2009.

Two years ago, they couldn’t even agree on a Continuing Resolution, so they implanted a ridiculous strategy within the Budget Control Act. They devised indiscriminate budgetary cuts so disagreeable to both parties that, it was reasoned, they would force themselves to compromise.

Not even that worked. The “Super Committee” couldn’t come up with a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package in November 2011.

Republican brinkmanship threatened to put us over the “fiscal cliff” in early 2013, yet their howling over minor tax increase for the top One Percent masked their overall victory for the wealthy.

Still, that $1.2 trillion deficit reduction threshold wasn’t met, so the sequester time bomb exploded in March 2013.

The sequester was supposed to spread the pain, but its effects have been felt unevenly. The poor have gotten the shaft. Meals On Wheels and Head Start, for example, have been cut.

The GOP is finding the sequester a convenient way to shrink government, especially since some of its pain was alleviated when Congress found an extra $28 billion for the Department of Defense last spring.

The government shutdown of 2013 is unlikely to put the brakes on a Republican party which embraces a scorched-earth policy. In just a couple of weeks, we have another debt ceiling debacle to look forward to.

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