As you've undoubtedly gathered, it's been busy in Washington over the last few days, and in that regard I hope your weekend was better than mine! Given all the activity I wanted to give you a quick update from my vantage point. I recognize beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and particularly so with regard to political actions, but from my perspective the Republican conference has taken four bites at the apple through the weekend and early days of this week in trying to avert a shutdown.
Nonetheless, we are now in day two of the government shutdown, and many who I've talked to ask three questions. How'd we get here? What's it mean? And when do Republicans and Democrats stop blaming each other for it?
The last question won't be answered in our lifetime, and so, let me leave the commentary on assignment of blame to others and focus on the policy implications as I see them after five months in Washington.
We are here because there has been an absolute breakdown of the funding process in Washington. In stark contrast to when I left Congress thirteen years ago, what was once an annual debate on twelve federal spending categories, has devolved to funding government by so-called Continuing Resolution. In bulk and without debate or amendment government winds up simply funded at last year's levels, and among other things this makes the government we do have less effective because the planning process becomes near impossible for agencies. In simplest form, Republicans want less spending and Democrats more. I am on the Republican's side here because the Congressional Budget Office numbers show that in just twelve years there will only be enough money for interest and entitlement spending -- and nothing else without huge and very disruptive change. In that regard, we might want to consider current government shutdown a preview of impacts one hundred times worse if we don't get our financial house in order. One can argue about the tactics and timing of this particular debate -- the nexus here was Republicans' question on whether or not we can afford another $1trillion dollar entitlement -- but it underscores the degree to which we have to have this debate as a society. Twelve years is coming fast.
Additionally, many of us have had real questions about not just the cost, but the implementation of Obamacare given its most unusual rollout. Because of this, Republicans have tried to force one last conversation on it here in Congress, and though our founding fathers laid out a format by which disagreements are solved between the House and Senate, thus far, Harry Reid and the President have said no. In fact, there's a lot more to be said about "Founding Fathers" in this debate than meets the eye.
There is a Constitutional issue at play that really hasn't been discussed, but one that I think provides legitimacy to the Republican House's attempts to delay the implementation of this new law. In that regard, we've lost the forest for the trees because at the end of the day, I think the issue is much greater than whether one likes or dislikes Obamacare, or even the appropriateness of using the current legislative tools employed to have an effect. Quite simply, selective implementation of a law warrants delay of that law. Our Founding Fathers were very deliberate in breaking up authority and power, and accordingly, gave to each branch of government different duties and responsibilities. Congress creates, the judiciary interprets, and the executive branch administers the law. Based on that separation of powers, when a law is passed there is no executive authority to revise the law by picking and choosing which parts will be enforced. At the core, that's what has happened with Obamacare.
Can you imagine if George Bush or Bill Clinton had decided they only wanted to enforce tax cuts or increases on a selective basis? In this case, the President has decided to waive the implementation of the employer-mandate while leaving the mandate in place for individuals. This is not a small technical part of a law, but rather essential to the very working of the overall program. More than 1,200 businesses had been granted these waivers before delay of the entire employer mandate. Members of Congress and their staffs got the same and in total, there have been seven different areas of the law that the President elected to delay. If the President had pressed for legislative adjustments to the law to cover these things it would have been different - but that wasn't the case, and therefore, we plow new Constitutional ground.
Two, a very significant part of the glue that has held our society together for over 200 years has been the belief that our system was fair or equitable. If we lose that, we're playing with real fire in the composition of how our society is held together. Most folks I've talked to have been troubled by the idea of big businesses or those in politics being treated differently based on their tie to power.
Three, this bill costs a lot and that number is trending upward. Wouldn't a pause be reasonable to see the degree to which young people do or don't enroll given its cost implications for the bill? Government programs have a way of costing much more than advertised and we are approaching a real tipping point in our ability to afford existing government promises, let alone new ones.
Four, there also seem to be real questions of unintended consequences with this bill. This is the case as highlighted by union leaders' concerns as businesses move to go under 30 hours of employment. It is also the case as institutions as disparate as the University of Virginia and UPS have announced that they are dropping spousal and dependent coverage from their health care plans based on the costs of this law. Changes like these put us a long way from what the President promised: choice in healthcare coverage and the ability to keep one's current plan.
There have been 17 government shut downs over the last 36 years. Many occurred when Democrats controlled the House, Senate and Presidency -- all occurred over policy differences. They are the bluntest of leverage points in politics, and in every instance were used to try to advance the will of what was thought to be the will of the majority of those who sent them. When Harry Reid and the President have both said that they will not negotiate, defeat in the long run is near certain for the House, but that idea of using every tool to advance the voice of the majority of those who sent you is, to me, a fairly American and democratic concept.
So we find ourselves in a very important debate at several levels. Whether any of us agreed with the timing or merit of this debate tied to the continuing resolution, debt ceiling or something else, is irrelevant to the fact that we are now here. Accordingly I'd really ask that you have those conversations with friends at work or elsewhere about the concept of "if not now, then when", and about having a national debate on how much we can really afford in spending and taxes, and the ways in which we want laws enforced in this country. More is at play here than meets the eye. In this, we don't have to see what comes next, we can all be part of determining what comes next.