01 October 2013

Shutdown city USA

I have many thoughts on this.

There are actual people, many thousands of them, who are presently out of work because of this. I share a general distaste for the government employing millions of people in the first place, but there are far better ways to trim the rolls and most of the people out of work are not the sort that are doing things I would more strongly disapprove of having in the first place (such as DEA agents, the TSA, the various NSA personnel doing dragnet surveillance on Americans, and most foreign deployed Army forces). It's mostly civilian contractors for defence programmes and some agencies that do "less essential" things, only some of which would fall into those categories of unsavory occupations. Some of these are people who could be in some agency that could be partially or fully privatized and their jobs less subject to partisan budget haggles (some national parks or most of NASA's operations for instance), but that isn't' the state of affairs as yet. And isn't a likely consequence of this whole kerfuffle either. While I think there's some disdain for civilian workers, these are people who were hired under contract to do a job and are largely being dismissed in a haphazard and foolish way, even if only temporarily. This is a form of pain and suffering inflicted on people, and imposes costs for starting and stopping various operations unexpectedly, hiring and training potential replacements if it lasts any appreciable duration, creates unemployment concerns, and so on. The sequester had some similar pain and suffering inflicted but was largely overlooked as this was mostly (but not entirely) impacting poor people. These are mostly middle class professionals now getting hammered. That changes the political impact.

That said, the political impact is that people will hate Congress. But they already hate Congress. A lot. And they had an opportunity to do something about this not long ago, and for the most part, did not. People hate Congress, but mostly think their man in Washington (and it's usually a man) is doing fine. The chances of this are slim in reality, but occur mostly because people have been segregated by years of movement, personal affiliation, and gerrymandering into strong partisan camps for Congressional races. They don't see the problem with their guy because he mostly says things they want to hear, and that's easier to do because they want to hear fewer conflicting things tailored to separate camps (albeit, still plenty of conflicting nonsense is necessary, such as "Medicare shouldn't be cut but deficits are bad"). Republican grassroots backers seem fine with shutting down the government even if the only thing they deign necessary to turn it back on is some concession on ObamaCare. Which isn't a political possibility, and isn't even an effect of shutting down the government.

In general, ObamaCare represents a shift in the economy, but it is not a significant shift in the status quo of health care markets in the US. I don't like all its particulars and would support overturning it, if it were replaced with something more like Wyden-Bennett for instance. But in and of itself, it really isn't that different from what we had before (yet anyway, it could prove more unpredictable, but it's more likely to end up looking like Massachusetts than the UK). So. I'm not really sure why it is the pillar that either party wants to stand and die on. There are more significant deficit busting things the Republicans could have picked in order to be credible on that issue (including, say, the farm subsidies that they voted to increase, but also entitlement reform negotiations or tax reforms, or reductions in defence spending). Portions of the ACA are broadly popular (price transparency, insurance of pre-existing conditions, leaving children on adult insurance longer, etc) and would likely have to be part of any new deal to replace it. So simply getting rid of it will likely turn out less popular than the public imagines for this reason and will not actually be a very effective and popular move for the party that does so. While this idea of tying a delay or a kill it effect to the ACA bill has been floating around a while, the sales job for the general public, rather than the conservative base who already champions the idea, has been very slow in coming around. This makes picking it as a fighting point a very strange move politically. It had zero chance of success, it isn't likely to make the Democrats look like the bad guys to the general public, and so on. There's a possibility of it, simply because this bill isn't that popular either. But the general public wanted a deal, not a shutdown. And that deal wasn't "kill or delay this silly health care law too", it might be some other concession, but something smaller more likely. As a further problem, the bill on the table wasn't even a deal that would solve this problem for a year or two. It was for a few weeks where we would just be back at this same point around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Hurrah for that.

I'm curious what happens now with the default limit in a few weeks. I think most Republican backers (of substantial wealth anyway), are probably okay with a shutdown, if not happy about it. I doubt most of them are okay with a default risk. The business types are in fact, probably pissed about the prospect. I suspect this reflects the division within the Republican party over what to do over the last few months, with party elites trying to push for simple moves to get things over and done with and move on to meaningless symbolic votes against ObamaCare and the like, and the base understanding those symbolic votes won't amount to anything but not understanding that actual votes probably won't either.

In general, I am greatly annoyed that a meaningless potential intrusion into Syria and the government's inability to play together have destroyed the public attention span for the NSA scandals, still ongoing in their revelations. For instance that the NSA decided it may use "enrichment" data without restraint drawn from social media sites, credit cards, insurance records, as part of their investigations and dragnets into American citizens. I don't like having to pay attention to furloughing of civilian workers while the NSA continues unimpeded. It is a distraction from the real business of actual deficit controls and necessary reforms therein, and from the expansion of executive and government power into the lives of ordinary people to have fights over things that do very little of either.
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