So are you feeling shut down yet? As you surely know by now, Congress can't agree on a budget for the fiscal year that started on Tuesday. That's nothing new. They haven't agreed on a formal budget since 2009, and we have been operating under "continuing resolutions" ever since. The continuing resolution says we'll keep spending at the levels we last approved until somebody can come up with a better idea that can get a majority vote. In other words, they dither rather than making any real policy decisions.
The adoption of the continuing resolution has usually happened more or less on schedule. This time around, it all blew up. The fight is over a continuing resolution that will authorize spending at previously-approved levels until (drum roll, please) November 15th. Yes, we are shutting things down over a six-week, stop-gap spending measure, setting up the opportunity to do it all again in November.
Of course it gets stranger. The Yosemite Sam faction of the Republican Party, which includes our own zealot, Senator Mike Lee, has decided that they will use this opportunity to kill the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The health reform law has been in place for almost four years now, with bits and pieces rolling out along the way. Forty-two efforts at repeal have failed to pass Congress. The centerpiece of it, the health insurance exchanges, opened Tuesday.
The exchanges are supposed to provide a competitive marketplace for people who the private insurance market had previously refused to sell insurance to. It attempts to bring competition to what has been a pretty uncompetitive marketplace for private insurance. The Republicans want no part of this commie-pinko free-market approach. It also provides government subsidies to people who are not able to afford to buy the private insurance. It's not government insurance. It's government subsidy for people to buy from the private insurance companies. So really, it's a government subsidy of private insurance companies. Hey, Aetna, here's 30 million new customers. You don't hear them complaining.
Anyway, the Yosemite Sam folks just cannot abide the idea of the government subsidizing anything except wheat farmers and defense contractors, and have decided to blow up the world rather than see people buy private health insurance. In their world, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the Democrats to agree to demolish something they have been trying to achieve since the Truman administration, and to expect the President to sign that into law, all in order to get a whole six-week extension of funding at current levels. Kill a multi-generational policy goal in exchange for six weeks of temporary funding. Wow, what a deal. Hard to imagine the Democrats not jumping all over that one.
Since I'm in that group of self-employed people who have to buy health insurance on the individual market, I've paid pretty close attention to all of this. Obamacare isn't perfect. It's full of payoffs to the drug companies and relies on the private insurance companies, which haven't exactly demonstrated their benevolence while taking full advantage of near-monopoly conditions. Obamacare isn't where I would have gone with it. But it's what we got. It passed both houses of Congress (squeaked through, but it passed). It was re-hashed in the last election, and they guy who wanted to repeal it lost. So get over it already.
The Republicans have never proposed an alternative plan. Despite their claim that the premium subsidies for lower income people will knock the planets out of alignment, they have offered absolutely nothing as an alternative. Except maybe reverting to the old system that left 10 to 15 percent of the country without health insurance, showing up at emergency rooms, where the insured ultimately pick up the costs.
So we have a shutdown, and my weekend trip to Bryce and Zion is getting changed around to eliminate Bryce and Zion. These things often get worked out in a day or two, and the impact is minimal. This one feels different. The House and Senate aren't able to work together. The split between the rational and Yosemite Sam Republicans in the House is getting bigger rather than smaller. I suspect it will go on for a while into some rootin', tootin', shootin' climax where the GOP implodes. Couldn't happen to a more-deserving bunch. All this is over a six-week budget extension.
Now that they have demonstrated that the job is too big for them, is it too much to ask for our members of Congress to resign in shame? We could appoint the first six winos to stumble out of Pioneer Park and be better off. With the exception of Mike Lee, who is throwing napalm every chance he gets, the rest of the Utah delegation has gone into hiding. Nice work, guys.
Stand by for the debt ceiling debate in two weeks.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.