Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics The GOP's Nonessential Government Shutdown

The GOP's Nonessential Government Shutdown

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I somehow very much doubt that polling has been done to back this projection up, but feel very confident in saying that the American people have spent much more time talking about the Breaking Bad finale than they have wasted worrying about the government shutdown.
Happy shutdown day, by the way.
Political junkies were tweeting furiously as cable news networks dusted off their countdown clocks on Monday morning and prepared their sweeps-style crisis coverage.
But coverage on Monday, from the Anchorage Daily News to New York Times was rigidly set around the partisan brinksmanship propelling us over the edge, rather than the substantive doomsday that one would imagine a shutdown would cause.
“Shutdown” is defined as “the act of stopping the operation or activity of a business, machine, etc., for a period of time or forever.
Now apply that to the United States. America, shut down.
Eek.
You’d think that would be enough to pull the nation’s attention away from prime time. Especially on a day that doesn’t include football. But it most certainly won’t.
People recognize it’s not a shutdown. Unless you’re one of the 800,000 public employees being sent home today, the shut down is just congress singing another verse of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The media played along, sweeping up the ratings that trickle down during commercial breaks from The Voice. By now, as we welcome the 18th shutdown since 1976, we get that it doesn’t actually shut the country down. We’re still connected to the internet, the mail still delivers our bills, and people are protecting us.
Despite the dire predictions of hopeful pundits on the left, the House GOP don’t really have much to worry about. The shutdown is what House Republicans have been working towards.
Remember this?

This was Rick Perry’s campaign-ending debate flub about what agencies he’d like to see cut.
“[I]t’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone. Commerce, Education, and, um, what’s the other one there?”
Ron Paul’s suggested eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency. Perry thought that sounded pretty good.
Flash forward to today. Republicans hollered about Obamacare, dug their heels in, and got their shutdown. What happens now?

  • Department of Commerce: 40,234 of 46,420 workers furloughed (meaning: sent home indefinitely without pay); an 87 percent reduction.
  • Department of Education: 3,983 of 4,225 workers are furloughed; a 94 percent reduction.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: 15,181 of 16,205 workers furloughed; a 94 percent reduction. Said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday: “EPA effectively shuts down”.

Oops?
The Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, Interior, Energy, and NASA (apologies, Mars Rover, you’re on your own from here) would all see more than half their agencies sent home. When was the last time you heard a national Republican say something nice about HUD or the government’s role in health and human anything?
Senator Ted Cruz, the current champion of the far right, gets his dream of taking out the Internal Revenue Service. 90 percent of IRS workers would be furloughed and the agency would “cease some of its key functions such as audits….”
The shutdown, as devastating as its effects will be on all the departments and services House Republicans dislike, clears any impacts to the political third rail issues conservative voters pay attention to. Social security checks still go out. Medicare, Medicaid, the FBI, Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, law enforcement, and airport security all remain operational – though mostly without pay. The mail still gets to you on time.
Due to the laws we’ve created to regulate shutdowns, the nation only strategically cuts certain programs deemed “nonessential.” This distinction was constructed to determine, in the event of a shutdown, what positions need to be maintained for purposes of national security. It has since evolved to include all positions politically dangerous to interfere with, despite how “nonessential” public workers most likely view their paychecks as “pretty damn essential.”
Thus, here we are; ankle-deep in what we should be calling a “Nonessential Government Shutdown.” Had the debate over the past weeks centered around an actual government shutdown – where our military ceases activity, our embassies close, and our social security checks and medicare benefits cut out – we wouldn’t be here right now.
But our lawmakers aren’t serious about policy; they’re serious about politics.
The GOP, through their crusade against the Affordable Care Act – which has nothing to do with keeping the government funded and will continue through a shutdown – has created a strategy to acquire most of the desired actions they haven’t been able to attain legislatively. They’re willing to risk the toll this method may take during the midterms. But if history, combined with the public’s current inattention to the unfolding spectacle, are any indication, it might be a pretty good bet.
Just as the Obama administration and Senate Democrats are depending on the public to get used to the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are hoping people get used to the shutdown, and the agency cuts that come with it. 800,000 angry government workers, they would contend, can be absorbed inside their safe, partisan districts, such that they wouldn’t disbar their reelection bids.
We’re all on the outside, looking in. So, we’ll probably just watch television. It’s starting to feel about as useful.
I suppose I’ll check in for updates every now and again. In between baseball playoffs, of course.