It has come to this. In the last hours before a government shutdown, the Republican-led Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open for all of 72 more days (until December 11), with funding at current levels.
The CR did not include the right-wing’s most recent fixation – a cutoff of Planned Parenthood funding – so it passed with the votes of 186 Democrats and only 91 Republicans. That reality forced the resignation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, removing the closest thing to adult supervision over the House Republican caucus. This is not the way to run a corner deli, much less a government.
The vote keeps the doors open but solves nothing. In December, the Congress will face another government shutdown, plus it will run into the expiration of the debt limit, enabling the wingnuts to threaten the good faith and credit of the United States government to achieve their obsessions – defunding Obamacare, ending Planned Parenthood’s support for women’s health care, gelding the Environmental Protection Agency or whatever. Meanwhile, the surface transportation bill – the minimum spending needed to sustain the trust fund that pays for repair of our highways – and the Export-Import Bank remain in limbo.
Before Boehner leaves his post and the Congress at the end of October, the leadership will join with the president to try to negotiate the top lines of a budget for the remainder of fiscal years 2016 and 2017 that would relieve the destructive, across-the-board cuts required from continuing sequestration mandates and find ways to pay for badly needed spending. Since Republicans refuse to consider new taxes, little relief is likely.
If no agreement is possible, then Republicans will wait until another shutdown looms, and then consider a continuing resolution for the rest of fiscal 2016 and most likely for half of fiscal 2017 (since no budget will be passed in an election year) at current levels.
The wingnuts of the right are winning. Yes, they have failed to repeal Obamacare, or cut women’s health care, or repeal consumer financial protection. But they are slowly disemboweling basic government services, as falling spending fails to meet growing needs and a growing population. Everything that government does domestically – outside of guaranteed programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, veteran’s pensions and the like – has been slashed by about 17 percent since 2010. Support for K-through-12 education – the utterly essential support that goes to schools in impoverished neighborhoods – is down 20 percent. By 2016, the domestic discretionary spending will be at the lowest level in relation to the economy since they began keeping track in 1962.
Americans pay the price for this every day. Sewage systems decline, with fouled and wasted water rising. Roads crumble; bridges fall. Commutes get harder as mass transit is less available and more costly. Poor children go without adequate books or materials. Aged school building are dangerous to their health. Corporations trample worker rights, workplace safety and environmental standards, confident as funding for inspections and enforcement decline. Students graduate burdened by a debt many will never be able to pay. We aren’t investing to capture the green industrial revolution that is already being driven by catastrophic climate change. America has become a land of private wealth and public squalor – and we all suffer the result.
And the squabbling zealots of the Republican caucus continue to hold the country hostage. The dysfunction will get worse. In the heated race for every post in the House Republican leadership, one of the contenders voted Wednesday against the CR, essentially voting to shut down the government. Moderate Republican is an oxymoron.
Adam Smith once wrote that a great country has a lot of ruin in it. We are about to test the limits of that proposition.
Hear Robert Borosage discuss the federal budget at 3 p.m. Thursday during a webinar sponsored by the Progressive Majority Action Fund. To attend the webinar via your smartphone, tablet or computer use this link.