The Only Thing They Have to Fear Is . . . Government Itself
“We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.” —Rep. Michele Bachmann  (R-MN)
“The mood in the Capitol on Saturday, at least among Republicans, was downright giddy. When Republican leaders presented their plan in a closed-door meeting on Saturday, cheers and chants of “Vote, vote, vote!” went up. As members left the meeting, many wore beaming grins.” —NYT  9/28/13
“[Economists] make all sorts of predictions. . . . Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.” —Rep. John Fleming  (R-LA)
“There is no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country. I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling we will default on our debt. We won’t.” —Sen. Tom Coburn  (R-OK) on CBS This Morning, 10/8/13
They’ve Been Planning a Shutdown for Years
Isn’t it delightful that they are so pleased with themselves? The 80-odd members of Congress known as the Tea Party caucus  who insisted on this government shutdown and repeatedly refused to negotiate a budget with the Senate—these distinguished members of Congress continue to be paid from their $174,000 -per-year salary. (Congressional salaries have come to $2.6 million as of Oct. 10; see chart below.) Meanwhile, 800,000 “nonessential” federal workers from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission , the National Hurricane Center , the Centers for Disease Control , inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration , Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission; staff at NASA, EPA, FEMA, and the National Park Service, and other federal agencies and departments are made to stay home with no pay, or to work with no pay. (See “Five Ways the Government Shutdown Is Threatening Our Health and Safety .”)
These distinguished members of Congress who style themselves “fiscal conservatives” and rail against federal debt, who recently voted to cut $4 billion per year from programs that feed the needy, are costing the nation $1.6 billion  every week while the government is shut down. That’s $40 million per hour. The shutdown is now in its second week, and, other than insisting on getting their way, and issuing new demands daily, the House Republicans have no plan to restart the U.S. government.
[ Republicans speak constantly of “this growing federal deficit,” but ignore the fact that in the Obama years, the deficit has been steadily shrinking, and ignore the fact that in 2001 George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus  from Bill Clinton, and (aided by their votes) left Barack Obama with a $1.3 trillion budget deficit. The bar graph here—click  for a closer look—shows the years 2008–2013 (projected). See the bars getting smaller? ]
Food and Nutrition: Food stamps will still be available, but the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC ) nutrition program, a service meant to help new and expecting mothers and their young children get nutritious foods, will not. Roughly 9 million Americans depend on WIC.
Housing: The nation’s 3,300 public housing authorities will stop receiving payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Disaster Relief: In preparation for a potential shutdown, the Utah National Guard is holding off  on sending a team to help rebuild areas in Colorado devastated by massive floods last week.
Health Care: The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting  new patients and delay or stop clinical trials.
Financial Services: The Small Business Administration will stop making loans , federal home loan guarantees will likely go on hold, and students applying for financial aid could also see delays and backlogs in applications.
Think Progress notes , “All this will come at a price. The last two shutdowns  during the Clinton era—one lasted six days in 1995 and another stretched 21 days at the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996—cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion  (in today’s dollars) in unnecessary expenses—as government employees abandoned their jobs to prepare for the shutdown.”
The Shutdown Is Not (Only) about “Obamacare”
“We need to make sure that you are going to be with us when we shut down the government, which we will do if we win the majority this year.” —Rep. Lynn Westmoreland  (R-GA), addressing Faith & Freedom Conference, 2010
The tactic of shutting down the government, threatened or promised in 2010, as it was carried out by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, was originally intended to enforce fiscal restraint. The hardline Tea Party caucus of some 80 members pivoted to apply the threat of a shutdown as a way of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which they call, pejoratively, “ObamaCare.”
“We urge you not to bring to the House floor in the 112th Congress any legislation that provides or allows funds to implement ObamaCare . . .” —Aug. 21, 2013, letter  from Reps. Michele Bachman, Jim Jordan, and about 80 other Tea Party caucus representatives to Speaker John Boehner
It is important to understand that the Republican members driving this thing have been not only threatening but also promising to shut down the government at least since they were running for office in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. These radical congressmen—and they are not “conservatives,” as they like to call themselves, but are extremists, anarchists—are mostly white men from gerrymandered  districts who are largely safe from any electoral consequences: they won’t have to pay a price for their brinksmanship and shenanigans in the next election because everyone in their district (which may look like the 6th district of Baton Rouge’s Bill Cassidy, M.D. , shown at right) thinks very much the way they do. Either they do not have many poor people, people of color, immigrants, or college-educated liberals in their districts to worry about, or those minorities who do live, or try to eke out an existence, in their districts will most likely have a harder time voting, if they’re still on the list, next time around.
“Cut It or Shut It . . . We Want Less”
Before the current shutdown, Congressional Republicans have threatened seven times to take the government down, or take the economy over a cliff (remember the fiscal cliff?), just since early 2011. They have been looking for excuses to “cut it or shut it.”
As Steven Benen wrote in “A Series of Near-Death Experiences ” at the Maddow Blog:
In April 2011 , congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011 , congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011 , congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012 , congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012 , congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ In January 2013 , congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013 , congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown.
And now . . .
Why John Boehner is allowing a comparatively small group of representatives in the House to control the agenda is beyond our understanding, though we can imagine he wants to keep his position as Speaker of the House. At least it was beyond comprehension before a front-page article in the Sunday, Oct. 6, New York Times, “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning ,” reported that the billionaire conservative activist Koch brothers , Charles and David Koch, had put some $200 million into fighting the Obama healthcare law, funding such groups as Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action, a close relation to the Heritage Foundation. These groups ran media spots against some 100 Republican members of Congress who declined to sign on to the Tea Party letter  to House Speaker John Boehner mentioned above.
Cracks Appear in Republicans’ United Front
Business, and even some conservative action groups, worried that this has gone on too long already, are beginning to back away  from the hardline House Republicans. On October 9, the Koch brothers sent a letter to Congress  stating that Koch Industries “has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution [for funding the government] to defunding Obamacare.” Similarly, on the same day, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham gave essentially the same message  to reporters.
“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” —Rep. Marlin Stutzman  (R-IN)
The Republicans have no plan to end the standoff. They have dug themselves in too deep to pull back out. They insist that the president and the Democrats must compromise. But the Senate passed a continuing resolution some six months ago, and at least four times the House Republicans refused to join in a conference to work up their own budget proposal (as happens in a functioning Congress) because that would have required some compromise. Further, the “clean” budget bill that the Senate has been trying to get the House Republicans to vote on is billions below what the White House requested. The House Republicans held off because they wanted to drive this up to the very brink—they wanted leverage to make demands for further cuts, and then, with the Tea Party caucus’s urging, for defunding and repeal of “Obamacare”—and then, if necessary, over the cliff. Now the car is falling, falling, and they don’t know how to repeal gravity, either.
What worries business leaders and Wall Street is that vocal members of congressional Republicans apparently do not believe  that blowing through the debt ceiling (around November 1) is anything to worry about. Economists across the spectrum see a default on the national debt as insane and catastrophic, with global repercussions that could dwarf the financial meltdown of 2008, but even Republican senators are blithely unconcerned. On Oct. 9, the ninth day of the shutdown, Fidelity Investments sold off its U.S. Treasury bonds out of concern that the government may indeed default, and the U.S. government’s borrowing costs have risen sharply—another unnecessary addition to the national debt brought to us by the “fiscal conservatives.” (“Deadlock Worry Jolts the Market for T-Bills ”)
The Huffington Post has been running a list  of Republican members of Congress who say they are willing to cast an up-or-down vote on a budget without “repeal Obamacare” strings attached. These members of Congress should be encouraged (contact information here ) to stand up, speak out, and implore their likeminded members to vote with Democrats to restart the government. Perhaps this has gone on long enough?
Geography of Inhumanity Posing as Fiscal Discipline
Below are two maps, the first  (by The New Yorker) showing the congressional districts of the “suicide caucus” of Tea Party Republicans who pushed for the government shutdown. Almost every district has been made into an impregnable fortress where the representative can be as extreme as he or she wants to be without worrying about having to pay an electoral price.
Note the geographical similarities with the second map (by The New York Times), which shows the areas of the United States where poor and uninsured Americans live. The two maps are essentially the same: the hardline conservatives pushing the shutdown largely represent the states whose governors and legislatures refuse to allow expansion of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), even though they have high populations of poor, unhealthy people.
• “Where the Suicide Caucus Lives ” (The New Yorker, 9/26/13), showing districts of Republicans who signed a letter demanding that Speaker John Boehner pass legislation to defund Obamacare
• “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law ” (The New York Times, 10/2/13)
Top illustration by Chamomile Tea Party .