How did we get to the point of a government shutdown, which the GOP seems perfectly willing to embrace now in order to push through their agenda for defunding the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? It turns out that this has been months in the making, and is not just over the continuing resolutions the House has been drafting for the last few weeks that insist on stripping the ACA of funding.
As the volleys of who’s fault this is go back and forth, ad nauseam, with all of the focus on whether or not we fund the ACA and all the arguments over who is unwilling to compromise with whom, we need to actually know how it got to this point. It started in April, when the House and Senate both passed budget resolutions for FY2014. As expected, with a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate, the resolutions were wildly different from each other.
The budget process is as follows:
- The President of the United States submits a budget proposal to Congress.
- Both houses review the proposal, and develop budget resolutions of their own.
- The resolutions are “marked up” in the appropriations subcommittees.
- The House and Senate vote on the final versions of their respective bills, and go to conference committee to hammer out their differences, at which point the reconciled versions go to the floor of each house for a final vote.
- The president signs the reconciled versions, and the budget becomes law.
The first three and half steps of the process happened as they should have. The second half of step three, which is the conference committee, didn’t take place. Here is where GOP, or rather, Tea Party stubbornness, came into play. When the time came to go to conference, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the chairs of their respective budget committees, sat down to discuss a framework for such a conference.
At this point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he didn’t see why such a framework was necessary to proceed with what’s called “regular order.” He committed a bumble there. However, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), speaking on behalf of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), objected to forming such a committee because neither of them saw a successful outcome of such a committee.
A conference committee is usually approved unanimously by the Senate, is made up of people from both houses, and is used to reconcile differences in legislation that both houses have passed. Such committees are temporary, and once reconciliation is achieved, are disbanded.
Between April 23 and July 1, Senate Democrats asked for consent to go to conference on the budget resolutions 15 times, and were shot down by Senate Republicans 15 times, for the following reasons:
- They wanted a framework for how the conference would work.
- They wanted a guarantee that the budget would not be used to raise the debt ceiling.
- They wanted a guarantee of protection from tax hikes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
- Some of them wanted to debate the resolution again.
- They wanted an agreement on a 30-year budget outlook.
Notice that not one of these reasons has to do with the ACA. What’s truly odd is that Sen. Sessions and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), two of the Republicans that blocked various conference requests, asked for a conference prior to passing the resolution. They knew the process, and then backed away from it early on, and dug their heels in with subsequent requests. Other Tea Party senators, including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee (R-UT), also blocked requests.
On Sept. 29, Sen. Paul asked why they weren’t going to a conference on this on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” which was then explained by Sen. Durbin (D-IL). Paul is also among the senators who blocked conference requests earlier this year.
The ACA appears central to the reasons for a shutdown now, but is actually a red herring being used for the purpose of assigning blame. This whole thing started 5 months ago when the GOP began refusing to even attempt reconciliation of the budgets. To determine who is responsible for this, one needs to look at the last five months, and ignore the childish “they started it” arguments with respet to the ACA. The Tea Party wing of the GOP is, in fact, responsible for our current crisis. They are the ones who refused to negotiate.
It’s important to note that many Republicans are extremely irritated with their colleagues’ games, and are worried that they’ll be overwhelmingly blamed for a shutdown, and all the associated fallout. The same is true of refusals to raise the debt ceiling.
Interestingly enough, a GOP aide told Yahoo! News that the House was calling for a conference tonight, after the Senate rejected their third continuing resolution.