For Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the government shutdown is just a “temporary inconvenience.” The libertarian lawmaker is right that the shutdown is temporary, but I’d be hard-pressed to label it an “inconvenience.”
Among the people affected by House Republicans’ refusal to fund the government are kids with cancer, who have been refused admittance for clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health; kids in Head Start; women who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); shipyard workers; domestic violence counselors; disease and infection trackers at the Centers for Disease Control; college students on federal work study programs; and hundreds of thousands of federal workers, as well as the communities who serve them.
Republicans have offered measures that fund specific areas—in particular, veterans benefits and national parks—but have had little to say about these other functions of the federal government. That’s no surprise. The substantive outcome of the shutdown fits broadly with House Republicans’ long-standing policy priorities: cuts to programs for low-income Americans and the preservation of retirement benefits for today’s senior citizens.
Recall that for the last two years, House Republicans, as well as their Senate counterparts and their presidential nominee, have endorsed the Paul Ryan budget, a blueprint for spending and taxes that makes dramatic cuts to the federal government. In every iteration of the budget plan, the steepest cuts have been reserved for non-defense discretionary spending, in particular programs for low-income and poor Americans. As the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, Ryan’s budget would cut such spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, below the caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
In plain English, Republicans would cut veterans’ health care, scientific research, national parks, food safety, and environmental protections—the same government functions affected by the shutdown. That’s in addition to another core objective of the Ryan budget, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and an end to the Medicaid expansion. A shutdown that also affected Obamacare implementation would, in effect, be a shutdown that accomplished the GOP’s goals as defined by three years of budget documents and a presidential election. As for programs like Social Security and Medicare? The Ryan plan leaves those in place for present beneficiaries but alters their structure and reduces their benefits for future recipients.
It should be emphasized that a repeal of Obamacare would obliterate a shot at affordable health insurance for millions of Americans. And while such an outcome is highly unlikely, conservatives are still pressing their states to reject key parts of the law, including the Medicaid expansion. In Texas, where lawmakers have gone that route, more than 1.3 million people will lose a chance at health-care coverage.
Republicans may bristle at the accusation that they want to take health care away from working people, slash programs for low-income children, and block nutritional benefits for poor mothers, but those are just the consequences of the policies they propose and the actions they take. What else is supposed to happen, if Congress follows the lead of House Republicans and slashes funding for food stamps, for example?
If the GOP wants to be taken seriously as a party that cares about the interests of low-income people, it should act accordingly. Otherwise, it needs to learn to live with its unflattering image.