In case you haven’t heard, the government shut down at midnight last night as Congress failed to pass a “continuing resolution” to keep it operating. You’ll hear a lot of people saying this is a “standoff” or a simple case of two sides being unable to compromise. But it’s not politics as usual—it’s an unusual, and dangerous, hijacking of politics by a determined minority. Here are eight things to keep in mind as you watch this play out.
1. It’s Totally Optional: First and foremost, there’s no reason for a shutdown, except that House Republicans refuse to pass a continuing resolution (CR) without attaching unrelated provisions to undermine the Affordable Care Act. This is not an inevitable crisis. It’s a manufactured one.
2. About 800,000 People Aren’t Working, Many Working Without Pay: That’s according to this good, comprehensive overview by Brad Plumer of the Washington Post. “Non-essential employees” like medical researchers, pesticide regulators, wage-law enforcement officials and veterans’ benefits processors are staying home today and it’s unclear whether they’ll get back pay. That hit households hard.*
3. A Lot of People Could Go Without Benefits: Per Plumer’s report, some services provided by the government—like disability claims and pensions for veterans and food aid for low-income parents—will fall short if the shutdown goes on too long.
4. That’s Awful for the Economy: When people don’t get the money they’re expecting to get, they can’t do things like buy food or pay rent. When families and businesses don’t know when government will re-open, that makes matters worse. One economic research firm estimates the cost of a shutdown to our economy at $300 million a day.
5. Senate Democrats Have Already Compromised: The CR that Senate Democrats have passed, multiple times, isn’t based on their ideal budget. It’s based on the House Republicans’ lower spending levels, which lock in place sequestration cuts. Here’s an image from economist Michael Linden that explains it:
6. Keeping the Government Open Isn’t a Concession: House Republicans are trying to say that they’re just trying to “negotiate” with the Senate. But “do what we say or the economy gets it” isn’t a “negotiation.” It does not constitute a compromise on their part to “offer” to fund government operations. It’s called “governing.”
7. Many Republicans Understand What They’re Doing Is Crazy, Are Doing It Anyway: It’s simply not the case that most, or even all, Republicans, are enthusiastic about forcing a standoff. Even conservative writers admit that this is about a small, committed ideological caucus within the Republican party. As Kate Nocera reports, Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble called the shutdown strategy “irrational” and admitted that it would cause “risk to our economy.” And yet—out of loyalty to leadership, fear of a primary opponent, or some other mysterious reason—he voted with the rest of his party for the “irrational” and economy-damaging strategy at every opportunity. You get zero credit for knowing the right thing if you keep doing the wrong thing anyway.
8. It’s Undemocratic: Government by manufactured crisis and hostage-taking violates the basic norms of democracy—and the polls show that shutting down government to block or undermine the new health care law is a deeply unpopular position. Republicans are engaging in this behavior because they couldn’t win enough power in elections to get what they want any other way. It’s absurd to accept that as normal.
As this situation unfolds, keep those eight points in mind.
*Full disclosure: as the spouse of a federal employee, I’m part of one of these hard-hit households.