by Lindsey Hennawi, Program Assistant
The United States Congress regularly votes to pass appropriations bills to fund federal operations. Lately, however, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-controlled Senate have been unable to agree on these bills, so they instead pass a series of temporary “continuing resolutions” to keep the government funded. The last of these resolutions expired on September 30th. Since Congress was unable to pass another, a government shutdown process has begun, and will continue until a budget is agreed upon.
The appropriations bills keep failing due to Republican provisions to defund or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which went into effect on October 1st. This has been the major sticking point between the Senate and the House and thus the main reason for the shutdown.
What does a shutdown entail, exactly? Furloughed from their jobs, more than two million federal employees will have their paychecks delayed; many may never get backpay once they do go back to work. Not all government function will cease, but many of the agencies impacted are ones most crucial to protecting marginalized people. The Social Security Administration has halted acceptance of new applications for disability pay. If the shutdown lasts for more than a week, funding will run out for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides health and nutrition resources to nine million new and expectant moms. If it exceeds two weeks, millions of vets will be cut off from benefits. By the end of the month, funding for food stamp aid for 47 million Americans will be drained as well. Head Start programs will close, starting with 20 this week, leaving thousands of parents without affordable options for pre-K or childcare for their children. New clinical trials, vaccination programs, and certain food safety procedures are all on hold. And so on.
This scenario is basically the conservative utopic vision of government. The state security apparatus—military, law enforcement, prisons, the NSA—is still intact (considered “essential,” they remain open), whereas social welfare programs face de facto suspension. So, programs that incarcerate and oppress poor communities of color: unaffected. Programs that feed and care for them: shut down.
How could this happen? In short, the House is really set on gutting the ACA, while the Senate wants to protect it. The driving force behind the shutdown, an extremist conservative faction, insists that the rest of Congress must be willing to compromise. But many feel those conservatives had their chance to challenge the ACA—and boy, did they try—and now must accept it as law.
So let’s be clear about exactly what’s going on here, then. Far right-wing conservatives are essentially holding the government hostage to prevent the implementation of a Supreme Court-upheld law that would provide comprehensive health care to millions of people who traditionally could not afford it: poor folks, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, and youth, to name just a few groups who have received expanded protections and access to care under the ACA. But the chances of actually successfully overturning the ACA are slim to none, because, well, that’s not how laws work.
In other words: they’re strangling the democratic process, risking the lives and livelihoods of millions of working and struggling people in so doing, to deny working and struggling people access to affordable, comprehensive health care—you know, the kind of care those extremists, as mainly rich white men, have been able to access their whole lives. And even though they have virtually no chance of succeeding in this endeavor, they’re doing it anyway, because that’s how little they value the rest of us.
This is what makes calls for compromise so insidious. Any middle-ground under these circumstances means letting a bunch of over-privileged elites throw the legal equivalent of a temper tantrum in order to perpetuate endemic health disparities, a dwindling safety net, discriminatory barriers to care, and social and economic inequality that disproportionately harm poor people of color.
And that’s not compromise; it’s capitulation.