What do small-business owners, low-income mothers and Acadia National Park and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees have in common? All are at risk of collateral damage from a political war of words that won’t touch its ostensible target: the federal health care reform law known as “Obamacare.”
Approval of a federal spending plan has foundered on efforts to delay or derail Obamacare, thus bringing to a halt all but essential government functions, effective Tuesday. But the shutdown won’t do anything to derail the implementation of Obamacare. Instead, the people who are feeling the impact of congressional Republicans’ unwillingness to compromise are people who work for the federal government or benefit from government programs. They didn’t contribute to the current impasse, but they’ll bear the brunt of it. And that’s not right.
Congress’ key duty under the Constitution is to pass bills funding the government. Obamacare entered the federal budget process when its opponents bet that its supporters would vote to keep the government running, even if that meant passing a spending plan that undercut the law.
As we’ve seen, they bet wrong. The inability of Congress to approve a budget by Tuesday – the start of the federal fiscal year – set the stage for the shutdown. Ironically, Obamacare is “open for business,” as the president said Tuesday during the rollout of state health insurance exchanges.
A lot of other federal functions, however, have been disrupted. Acadia National Park is closed. About 1,700 to 2,000 Portsmouth workers were sent home Tuesday. Programs that guarantee loans to small businesses; support companies owned by women, veterans and Native Americans; and provide international trade assistance have been short-circuited. If the deadlock continues, those affected could include Mainers who draw on federal aid to heat their homes and feed their infants and young children.
Mainers are being penalized for drawing on or working for programs that aren’t connected to Obamacare and don’t contribute to the federal deficit. (Remember the deficit? During the budget process, initial declarations about the need to slash government spending have yielded to equally fervent arguments about the dire consequences of proceeding with the Affordable Care Act.)
The shutdown is already having a real impact on real people, and if it goes on, the repercussions can only get worse. The lawmakers who are standing in the way of a spending accord will have to answer to these Americans for putting point-scoring ahead of those they have sworn to serve.