Have you ever heard of the five stages of grief? It’s a hypothesis for what people go through when faced with some awful event, like death or trauma. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve seen the Congress – particularly the House Republicans – go through all 5 of those stages and arrive at acceptance finally on October 16, when they gave up their fight and finally allowed the government to be reopened.
Hours before the United States was going to default on its debt for the first time in its 237-year history and 16 days after the government was shutdown, Congress finally got its act together and fixed the problem. For now. Because the bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President reopened the government (at least through January 15) and raised the debt ceiling though February 7. What a relief that we’re not going to have to go through this again for 3 whole months.
And after all of the posturing and rhetoric and grandstanding and promises and showboating and threats – not to mention the 800,000 people put out of work for over 2 weeks – where did we wind up?
According to information reported by MSNBC, the rating agency Standard and Poor’s estimated on October 16 that the 16-day shutdown had “shaved at least 0.6% off of annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GPD growth”. In layman’s terms, that means it costs our economy $24 billion to shut down the government.
And remember that the reason that the House Republicans wouldn’t approve funding the government was because they had tied it to defunding Obamacare. Did they get that in the bill finally passed? Not only did they not get any concessions on the Affordable Care Act but they also didn’t get entitlement spending cuts (which Speaker Boehner insisted was an absolute for raising the debt ceiling) or a repeal of the medical device tax in the ACA (which requires medical device manufacturers to pay a tax which would go to pay some of the costs of providing health insurance to uninsured Americans).
The bill that passed was essentially the bill that was rejected again and again and again over the course of two weeks. Just think about that for a minute. Americans paid a $24 billion price tag for a bill that could have been enacted into law on October 1 and avoided all of this. Instead of coming up with a bill to keep the government running, our elected officials (in both parties) cost us $24 billion. And that doesn’t include the collateral damage to our states and municipalities because of lost tourism revenue due to national parks and monuments and museums and zoos being shut down.
So what are the take-aways? Not much in the way of positives, if you ask me. Instead of a long-term fix, we’ve got a 90-day window to try and resolve things or we’ll go through this again. (And, honestly, if I never have to write the words “government shutdown” again, I’d be very happy). Our economy has taken a hit. Our global reputation has been hurt. As we head into the busiest shopping season of the year, confidence in our economy is weak. This wasn’t just about dollars and cents; this was people’s lives and livelihoods put at risk by other people who don’t have to worry where the next paycheck is coming from.
This all started with the resistance, the opposition to Obamacare and I understand that. Some people are never going to like it; I get it. But just think of this. If the bill that was enacted on October 16 – which was essentially the same bill that could have been signed October 1 and which would have avoided all of this – had been signed 2 weeks earlier what we would have been talking about (and what I would have been writing about) for the last two weeks is the monumental failure of the Affordable Care Act website.
Instead of being painted as villains for shutting down the government over their desire to defund Obamacare, House Republicans could have instead reaped the benefits – and put both the Administration and the Democrats on the defensive – on why the Obamacare website doesn’t work. The whole narrative would have been changed. It wasn’t, though. I hope they think the $24 billion price we paid was worth it. Because I don’t.