Washington politicians are masters of illusion. They hem and haw over budgetary “cuts” while spending more than ever. Words are flying over a government shutdown, focused on next week’s convergence of deadlines for funding the federal bureaucracy and opening day of Obamacare. We can expect noise and not much action.
The House opened by sending a continuing resolution to the Senate, providing generous funding for the entire federal government, except for Obamacare. Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, will take one look at the bill and send it back, amended to restore Obamacare funding. That leaves the House where it started, facing the same deadlines with less time on the clock. It increases pressure on Republican leaders in the House to take whatever deal the White House puts on the table, meaning full funding for the health care scheme.
Conservatives hope to paint Mr. Obama as the schoolyard bully who insists on hogging the ball for the entire recess. “If the House offers to fund 99.9 percent of all the funds necessary [to run the government],” says Rep. Darrell E. Issa of California, “and the president says, ‘No, I want a full 100 percent,’ the answer has to be, ‘You’re not the chief appropriator.’” Mr. Obama does not worry about his image. He can get away with hogging the ball.
The Republican shutdown threat packs little credibility because Republicans have never stood up to this White House. The House speaker and Senate minority leader take the path of least resistance in hopes of winning more leverage in the next election. It hasn’t worked. Once the ribbons are cut on opening day of the Obamacare exchanges, it’s a highly visible and painful defeat for the Republicans.
A shutdown is high risk politically, but the actual shutdown might be more drama than actual pain. The federal bureaucracy has grown so large that a shutdown government is nevertheless enormous and not actually as quiet as the tomb. Contingency plans filed with the Office of Management and Budget reveal that the slimmed-down bureaucracy will hum right along.
Law enforcement and lifesaving operations would continue, fully staffed. At the Department of Homeland Security, 195,087 employees, or 84 percent of the total, would stay on the job. That includes the security agents at airports.
Even the Department of Commerce, perhaps the least important department of the federal government, would retain 16,743 employees, 36 percent of the current total. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would stay open with 5,709 employees. Even global warming, such as it might be, could resume at the pleasure of the sun and its spots. According to the Commerce plan, “employees required to maintain climate-monitoring research to ensure continuity of crucial long-term historical climate records” are declared essential and will stay on the job.
Since the Carter administration, the government has shut down 17 times, and the republic is still here, healthier than ever. House members must look to the reality of what has and will happen. Obamacare permanently engraved on the backs (and backsides) of the American people would be worse.