Friday, October 18, 2013

I muse on the Republican climb-down and the US constitution

An abject surrender and betrayal by spineless establishment Republicans. That's how American talk radio and conservative bloggers are excoriating the bipartisan vote on Wednesday to reopen the government without defunding President Obama’s health care law, today’s New York Times tells us. Hooray! A widespread collapse in public support seems to have forced this humiliating retreat on the Republican leadership who are blaming the Tea Party for the whole fiasco. Will the Tea Party soon split from the Republicans I wonder?

Federal workers protesting at the shut down
What makes my blood boil most? That public service workers have been laid off without pay, or (if they are deemed essential) have been forced to work without pay; or that the Tea Party has been trying to ditch the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?  Millions of Americans led by the nose by the millionaire Koch brothers. In Monday’s New York Times, columnist Bill Keller reckoned the real mission of the Tea Party and their big money backers was to use the shutdown lever to scuttle the new law before most Americans recognized it as a godsend and rendered it politically untouchable.  The Act has already within the past fortnight embarked on the task of enrolling millions of uninsured Americans.   Though on the other side here's a story in The Guardian about low-paid workers living on the breadline fearing a trend by employers to respond to the ACA by withdrawing workplace health insurance at the same time as cutting hours.

By the way don't allow me to mislead you. I can bluff with the best, and I may have given the impression I understand the Affordable Care Act. I don't. All I know is that for poor people it's a whole lot better than what went before, because to get health care in America you need to be insured, and though you still do, the insurance is now affordable. That’s as much as I understand. I'll pass lightly on. 

I got sidetracked from the government workers being forced to work without pay. In The Guardian on 12th October, Jeffrey David Cox, president of the federal workers union the AFGE, said nearly half his 670,000 members had been deemed essential workers and faced disciplinary action and the sack if they didn't turn up for their jobs despite not being paid. “Indentured servitude” he called it. 

Blame George III

Now to the big question. How come the American constitution allows one party in Congress to shut the government down like this? Crazy or what?  Well it's designed that way. The framers of the constitution were determined the president they were about to create wouldn’t become a tyrannical king like George III. A couple of weeks ago when pondering the Irish referendum to abolish the senate, I made some disobliging remarks about the parliamentary system in Ireland, where the parliament fails to hold the government to account, because through the party system the government dictates to the parliament, and not the other way round. It's so in Britain too, and so far as I know in any country whose constitution is modelled on the British system. The American Congress is a horse of a different colour. There as we’ve recently witnessed, the people’s representatives really can hold the government to account.  Trouble is of course that millionaires can sway the people’s representatives, both directly, and by persuading voters to believe in things against their interests. Even so, though I despise the Republican shenanigans on this occasion, I have to applaud the fact it was possible.