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Shutdown highlights political dysfunction

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According to a Gallup poll, confidence in the U.S. Congress this summer was at a record low of 10 percent.

That number might fall even farther after this week after Congress failed to pass a funding bill by Sept. 30, triggering a federal government shutdown. A government shutdown means exactly what it sounds like.

Each year, Congress must approve funding for government programs. If Congress does not pass a funding bill, government programs and services begin to shut down, and federal employees stop receiving paychecks. Necessary departments such as the military, Social Security and the U.S. Postal Service keep operating, but the workers in these departments are not paid until after the shutdown is over.

So a government shutdown is a bad thing. Then why is Congress having such a tough time passing any sort of funding bill? That would be because Republicans in Congress are trying to use this situation to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as Obamacare.

A group of Republicans has refused to pass any sort of funding legislation for the federal government unless Obamacare is suspended or defunded. For this group, shutting down the government is a worthwhile tradeoff if they can disrupt or disable President Obama’s health care law.

The plan is so radical that more moderate Republicans are coming up with some strange analogies for the situation.

“The only time you shut down the government is when you shut it down and refuse to open it until you accomplish what you want. We’ll fold like hotcakes. You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot, and we will not for sure shoot this hostage,” Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn said. Point taken, Senator Coburn.

Tea Party Republicans are acting irresponsibly and selfishly. Government shutdown is a disaster. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are not able to work. No one is able to get a passport or visit a state park or even get certain types of loans. The economy has been hit hard.

In a recent USA Today article, economist Mark Zandi is quoted saying that even a three-day government shutdown would likely reduce the economy’s growth rate in the fourth quarter by 2.5 percent. A shutdown that lasted two months would throw the country back into another recession.

It seems that the Tea Party will go to any length to injure President Obama, even if that means sacrificing the prosperity of millions of Americans. This is not right. A small group of politicians now holds the entire country hostage. And the most ridiculous part is that a government shutdown would not really affect Obamacare.

Obamacare is funded by mandatory funds, which means money that has been set aside specifically for programs. The Affordable Care Act began on Tuesday. Like Social Security and the military, it will be mostly unaffected even as the government shuts down.

Obamacare became a law in 2010. When President Obama ran for reelection in 2012, he stood behind the health care mandate, and the majority of Americans still voted for him. So the Tea Party Republicans can’t even claim a mandate from the American people.

The existence of this situation illuminates serious problems with current American politics. Republicans are trying to destroy a law that provides affordable medical care to millions of poor, young and working class Americans.

They hate Obama more than they care about these people, which makes you wonder whether they really care about these people at all. Instead, they shut down the government, threatening to stop the economic progress our country has made since the recent recession ended in 2009.

Congress did manage to prevent a government shutdown then. But it is sad that there was this much drama as Congress tried to accomplish the job it was elected to do.

Nicholas Bowlin ’16 bowlin@stolaf.edu is from Princeton, N.J. He majors in history and political science.

Image by Daniel Bynum