Thoughts on the Government Shutdown

October 1, 2013

All eyes are on the government shutdown battle over Obamacare. Here are a few thoughts:

  • House Republicans had six months to strategize since the last budget battle, so why did they leave it until the last minute to figure out what to do? They seem to have been unified in recent votes to defund and delay Obamacare. So why didn’t they announce their strategy months ago, draw a hard line, and then spend the summer building public support for their plan? The Democrats have a stronger hand because they have been giving a consistent message.
  • The lack of leadership from the House created a void that Senator Cruz filled. Some House members didn’t like Cruz getting the spotlight and telling them what to do, but they should have had their act together.
  • Obamacare opposition has been rising steadily this year. Even if Republicans don’t succeed with defunding Obamacare at this point, the polls may convince them to try again later. This battle could have been just a warm-up for a future battle if the polls get even worse for Obamacare.
  • Why might the polls get worse? Some reasons are: more employers dropping health benefits, more employers cutting worker hours, more insurers cutting doctors out of their plans, premiums continuing to rise, individuals rebelling against the mandates and penalties, health exchanges suffering glitches and meltdowns, rising privacy concerns from the massive government data grab created by the law, etc, etc. See Mike and Mike for more.
  • Obama and the Democrats brought the Obamacare backlash onto themselves, not only by imposing a very bad law, but also by slamming it through Congress in a very partisan manner. No Republican voted for it in either the House or the Senate. If you want a law to garner sustained political support, it is much better to pass it in a bipartisan manner, as was the case with welfare reform in 1996 and tax reform in 1986.
  • The 2001 Bush tax cuts garnered 28 House Democratic votes and 12 Senate Democratic votes. Yet even with that bipartisanship, Democratic leaders spent the subsequent decade relentlessly demonizing the law and trying to repeal parts of it. So for Democrats to say that it is unfair for Republicans to try and repeal Obamacare just because the president was reelected is ridiculous.
  • Democrats say that it is irresponsible to hold the economy and budget “hostage” to Obamacare repeal efforts. I don’t think so. Unless repealed, Obamacare is a huge issue for the nation’s health care system and the economy in coming years, so any short-term unpleasantness is a trifle compared to what’s at stake. As for the economy, the stock market rose during the last shutdown period in 1995/1996.
  • It is not fair for media stories to say that it is just a few “extremists” who want to delay or defund Obamacare. The House delay vote garnered all the Republicans except two, which made for a substantial majority in the people’s chamber. Indeed, Republicans probably wouldn’t be trying to defund Obamacare without the people’s strong and consistent opposition.
  • The way to limit Washington’s battles from harming the economy is to untether the economy from Washington. We should, for example, privatize many of the national parks or hand them over to the states and privatize air traffic control. Washington budget battles will likely get even more disruptive in the years ahead, so let’s start privatizing and devolving as many federal activities as we can right now. The problem isn’t the GOP taking the budget “hostage” to repeal Obamacare, it is the government taking hostage far too much of the American economy.
  • So I favor government shut-downs. That is, permanent shut-downs of federal activities that ought to be funded by state governments, the private sector, or nobody at all.
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