US shutdown drama ends but farce goes on
The deal that reopened the government has the potential for new conflict next year
The Korean War Veterans’ Memorial in Washington DC was reopened to the public yesterday as the White House moved quickly to get the government running after a 16-day shutdown. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
There was a bizarre moment late on Wednesday night as the House of Representatives voted on a Senate deal to end the 16-day United States government shutdown and raise the country’s borrowing limit.
A stenographer in the chamber was dragged from the House after ranting about God, the Freemasons and a “house divided” from the dais.
It was one of the final acts in a chaotic political drama that played out over the past three weeks and summed up the madness that has turned the routine performance of US government into a farce.
The crisis triggered by House Republicans intent on destroying the president’s signature healthcare law put hundreds of thousands of government employees out of work for 16 days, sucked an estimated $24 billion out of the economy and terrified world leaders over a potentially calamitous default.
And what is the outcome? The crisis showed that Republicans picked a fight they were never going to win and that the deal ending the impasse is only a sticking plaster – it has the potential to set up another confrontation early next year.
The passage of the Bill brokered in the Democrat-controlled Senate marked a defeat for House Republicans, and particularly for the hardline faction of Tea Party conservatives. They pushed House speaker John Boehner into a reversal to launch a twin-pronged attack on Obamacare – first by refusing to continue to fund government beyond September 30th and, second, by delaying votes on a debt-limit increase.
Boehner had warned in recent months against the party’s attempt to gut the three-year- old law that extends health insurance to those without cover, by threatening a government shutdown over the budget and a potential default over the debt ceiling. The Republican from Ohio knew the party would end up carrying most of the blame for a shutdown. He has been proven right.
A poll published by the Washington Post and ABC News as the Senate deal was being negotiated showed the longer the shutdown went on the greater was the blame attributed to Republicans. The most recent poll suggested 74 per cent of Americans blamed Republicans in Congress for the political impasse, compared with 61 per cent who pointed the finger at Democrats and 53 per cent at Mr Obama.
The Republican strategy was exposed when infighting undermined Boehner’s capacity to unite moderates and conservatives in the House. He tried to devise a last-gasp attempt on Tuesday to influence the Senate proposal drafted in a fleeting moment of bipartisanship in the upper chamber.