An op-ed by Jim Staab, Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Missouri [submitted by the author]:
The Anti-Federalists were those who opposed the Constitution. Believing that the proposed Constitution gave too much power to the federal government, particularly the Senate and the presidency, they voted against ratification. Patrick Henry, the fiery Anti-Federalist from Virginia, did not attend the Constitutional Convention because, in his words, “I smelt a Rat.” The tea party is the modern-day version of the Anti-Federalists. They are vehemently anti-government and are quick to label all federal programs as “socialist.” They would strongly support Henry’s famous quip: “Give me liberty or give me death.” The government shutdown is the latest example of the tea party’s anti-government zealotry. Not happy with Obamacare, the tea party is attempting to highjack the law by shutting down the government, and the leadership in the House of Representatives has lacked the political courage to stand up to this fringe element of the party.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010. Congress and the president passed the law with the following facts in mind: 15 percent of the American people were uninsured; health care costs account for 17 percent of the national economy; most insurance companies excluded coverage for pre-existing injuries or illnesses; and there was substantial cost-shifting in the current system. Those who did not have insurance (either because they could not afford it or they did not think they needed it) passed on the cost of required medical services to current policy holders in the form of higher premiums. On average the cost of uncompensated care raised family health insurance policies by $1,000 per year. In an attempt to make health care more affordable for all Americans, ACA prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and imposes an individual mandate. With a few exceptions, all Americans are required to purchase health care. By bringing more people into the system, the federal government contends that the cost of insurance will go down. Those on the left, who wanted a single-payer system, criticized the president for not going far enough. Obamacare ironically originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation, which proposed the individual mandate as a way of accomplishing near universal health care while still maintaining private insurance. The individual mandate was first tried in Massachusetts, during Governor Romney’s tenure as governor, and it has largely been successful. After careful scrutiny in the federal courts, including 5 and 1/2 hours of oral argument at the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest tribunal upheld Obamacare in 2012. While the law could certainly have been sustained pursuant to Congress’s commerce power, a majority of the Court, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld the law pursuant to Congress’s taxing power.
If one opposes Obamacare (as many of the tea partiers do), there are a number of democratic options to take. The most obvious method is to repeal the law. On 37 occasions House Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare, but they haven’t had the constitutionally-required support of the Senate. Another democratic way to change the law is for the American people to elect public officials who promise to repeal it. That hasn’t happened. Despite the best efforts of Mitch McConnell, the minority Republican leader of the Senate, to see that President Obama would not be reelected, he was. And despite the vulnerabilities Democrats faced in holding a majority in the Senate in 2012, they accomplished that too. So, since the House Republicans have not been able to repeal Obamacare democratically, what has been their alternative? They have chosen to tie the funding of Obamacare to the continued operations of the federal government. Beginning October 1st, 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed, many federal agencies are not open for business, national parks and monuments are closed, some estimates predict the cost to the national economy will be $300 million daily, and a default on the national debt looms on October 17. Congress’s approval rating stands at an all-time low (10 percent), and there’s little chance a government shutdown will improve matters. I hope the American people will hold the tea party and the Republican leadership of the House responsible for the unfortunate, unnecessary, reckless, disgraceful, and ultimately harmful (domestically and internationally) shutdown of the U.S. federal government.