Miscellany

Lo de acá: United States government is partially paralyzed

[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City, as posted on the Venezuelan website Aporrea on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. See original here.  It is instructive to contrast how a leftist Mexican newspaper like La Jornada and a pro-government Venezuelan news source like Aporrea report on the US government’s partial shutdown with US mainstream media coverage, like that of the New York Times, for example, of events in Venezuela and other Latin American countries with leftist governments.]

In a spectacular show of national political dysfunction, the representatives of the people, a wide majority of whom condemn them, brought about the partial shutdown of the United States government tonight when it failed to approve a federal budget.

Although a temporary agreement that would keep the government functioning for a few more days or weeks has not been ruled out, tension is mounting in political and financial circles as the first partial shutdown of the government in 17 years approaches. The White House budget office issued orders to federal government agencies at the stroke of midnight to proceed with an orderly shutdown.

Beginning at midnight a large part of the government ceased its activities, with 800,000 non-essential federal employees sent home, while millions more will have to work without being paid. Although the massive military apparatus will be exempt (some civilians who work in that sector will be affected), as well as the postal system, the border patrol, air controllers and other services considered essential, federal offices will be closed, public museums, national monuments, including the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument, national parks and most operations of the Department of Education, NASA and other agencies will be closed.

The fight over the federal budget revolves around the demand of a powerful group of Republicans in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by that party, to delay the implementation of Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, since, they say, it is not ready to be put into effect, while the Senate, under Democratic control, and the White House refuse to accept these conditions and accuse the Republicans of extortion by using a vote on the budget to promote their policies on other matters.

But the real, and scarcely hidden, objective of the radical conservative wing of the Republican Party, known as the Tea Party, is the complete annulment of the healthcare reform, which was signed into law three years ago and was endorsed by Obama’s re-election and by Supreme Court rulings, as well as the political defeat of Obama. The Republicans have tried 44 times in the past few years to weaken or annul the reform, CBS News reports.

This afternoon President Obama declared that the shutdown of the government will have a negative effect on economic recovery and affirmed that none of this has to happen, since it is all preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done, and that is the simple act of financing the government without making separate and controversial demands in the process.

He charged that one faction of one party in one of the chambers in one of the branches of the government should not close down the entire government simply to fight once again against the results of an election. They should not be able to demand ransom for doing their job.

In fact, this is no longer just a political fight between Democrats and Republicans but an internal battle among Republicans. Traditional Republicans reject the option of bringing about a partial shutdown of the government as a weapon, since the political costs for the party could be very high.

Veteran Republican Senator John McCain warned that the fight “is no longer seen as one between the positions of the Democrats and the Republicans but as a conflict among Republicans… something that can only weaken the party,” and, together with other senators and Republican politicians, urged his colleagues in the lower chamber to give up that strategy. Influential Republican Congressman Peter King verified that he would break ranks with his party on the question tonight and charged that the party has been kidnapped by ultra-conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz.

Tonight the Democrats declared that they will not negotiate any more on these points, but with or without a last-minute agreement, the Republicans threaten to continue the dispute in the next debate over raising the federal debt ceiling before October 17, something that if it is not achieved will have more severe economic results than the government shutdown, including setting off another recession, economists warn.

In the last hours before the end of the fiscal year at midnight on Monday and with everything pointing toward a partial shutdown of the federal government, each side accuses the other of not respecting the will and the interests of the people. But the people disapprove of all the legislators. According to an average of the most recent polls, only 15 percent of the public approves of Congress and 77 percent disapprove (in some, like the most recent CNN poll, only ten percent approve, the lowest figure recorded by that media), continuing the trend of some of the lowest levels ever seen.

During the partial shutdown of the government, Congress will remain open and the legislators will receive their salaries.