The Hill where government died

Published 1:45 am Saturday, October 5, 2013


By now, most Americans paying attention recognize that the federal government began shutting down on Monday based on the inability of Congress to appropriate funds.

The hill that both Republicans and Democrats seem to be willing to die on is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), otherwise known as “Obamacare.” How many Americans noticed that essentially one vote on one piece of legislation served as the power switch for the entire federal government? Why does the love or hatred of one policy, albeit a significant one, mean that government shuts down?

The federal government belongs to the American people, not a political party. Politicians are entrusted with its management, but it is not a prize to be won. It is that simple. Our nation was founded on a principle of divided government to avoid a dangerous consolidation of power that could be used to oppress those who shared different thoughts and beliefs than the controlling elite.

America’s new political order is hell-bent on driving each of us into adopting one of two narratives: Either the Democrats are to blame for shutting down government to preserve their signature partisan accomplishment or the Republicans are to blame for shutting down government to rail against the PPACA. Pick your side and blame the other…again.

Historically, the federal government has been funded through several distinct appropriations. President Obama is right that Congress has failed in its efforts to fund government, but he frequently fails to note the change in the appropriations process that set Congress up for failure.

Instead of passing multiple appropriation bills over the past several years, Congress has adopted a new trend of funding the government in an “all-or-nothing” fashion through continuing resolutions and supplemental spending bills. Instead of working to agree on the appropriations bills covering every aspect of government other than the PPACA, both Republicans and Democrats decided to needlessly play chicken with the entire federal government impacted by discretionary appropriations.

In the 111th Congress, Democrats enacted the PPACA without any Republican support in the House or the Senate. By any account, the legislation represented Washington’s hyper-partisan environment at its most extreme.

Republicans regained the House of Representatives in convincing fashion during the 2010 midterm elections. The Democrats’ 63 seat net loss was the largest for one party since 1938.

While President Obama won reelection in 2012 and Democrats surprisingly gained two seats in the Senate, the House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican control.

The PPACA was passed in a flatly partisan manner and is understandably controversial; Democrats are no more entitled to Republican votes to fund the PPACA than they were when they passed the legislation in the first place. The Democrats are doing their best to feign shock that Republicans would respond in a similar partisan manner to address the PPACA when given the opportunity.

While enacting the PPACA may have provided the authorization for Congress to appropriate funds for the PPACA, the appropriation itself is a separate piece of legislation.

Most importantly, it involves a relatively discrete portion of the federal budget. The bipartisan failure to address numerous other appropriation bills in favor of a winner-take-all political gamble on the PPACA is lazy, uninspiring, and devastating to those who depend on the federal government for their livelihood.


Cameron Smith is vice president and general counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute.