The gridlock at present gripping the US government now extends into its second week as the highly fractured Republican party continues to wage battle within. Instead of a tussle between the two main parties, this has become a war between the Republican Party and its growing extreme-right membership – namely in the Tea Party movement – over the passing of the controversial Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Since its creation, Obamacare certainly hasn’t been shy of headlines. The promise to provide access to health insurance for all US citizens, irrespective of their means, was Obama’s strong policy promise pre-election, and one that has proved a continuous thorn in the side of the ‘nobody-should-be-given-help-for-free’ Republicans. In fact, now they hate it so much that some are willing to have the whole country shut down and default on its debts in an attempt to delay the reforms.
But, as Obamacare is probably Obama’s singular greatest achievement, he is unlikely to back down – especially as it has already been agreed, passed by the Senate, signed into law and, in some places, is being implemented as the shutdown takes place. It would seem that the disagreement is therefore futile, and even ridiculous when those such as Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman say: “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Looking at the bigger picture, however, what is hugely worrying about the situation is the effect the behaviour of the ruling class is having on a democratic system. One of the parties in an electoral system dominated by elite, largely corporate-funded bodies is using its power to bring the country to a halt, causing the withholding of wages and a shutdown of services – despite the policy under fire having already been democratically approved by the American people and passed into law. If this was a strike at the hands of workers, it would likely be penned by the mainstream media as un-patriotic radicalism – not the reality TV show into which outlets like Fox have glorified this shakedown, complete with tongue-in-cheek interviews, drama, and anticipation.
The reality for many Americans, who are still stuck amid the suffocating effects of recession, is that a halt in wages for some 800,000 workers will mean no money for food, travel, heating, or other essentials. The stand-off between rich, privileged members of Congress – still being paid throughout the shutdown – over whether people should be given help towards something as fundamental as healthcare clearly exposes the crude unjustness of a society that prides itself on being the leader of the free world.
Anyone who has seen Michael Moore’s film Sicko will know the extent of suffering for those who cannot afford health insurance and are left with few other options. As Moore demonstrated, getting to Cuba was some people’s only hope, where the Caribbean country’s universal healthcare system under the Communist Party saw Americans he took there treated for free, to their enormous surprise. But many never had this option – most not even holding a passport. The provisions of Obamacare, whether successful or not pending its implementation, are the only piece of legislation at present trying to tackle this gross injustice by giving desperate Americans some hope.
Of course, this all costs money. During the Obama administration, federal debt has risen by 90% – and overall federal government spending has risen by a massive 317% since 1990. The economic situation is becoming more and more difficult to control, and not unlike the UK, it is the mass poor and disadvantaged that are the first to pay the price for the greed of the few. Despite the American dream still being peddled by the media and government – that anyone can make it, whatever your start in life – this has clearly not been the case for decades. Today, an unprecedented 15 of every 100 Americans need food stamps, and 45% of all infants are helped by the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) programme that provides formula and vouchers for food. People are desperate, and the reason that the US government is stuck in a headlock is because certain factions want to make them more so.
And what is to be the outcome from this stalemate? According to commentators, there are two options: default on US debts – a self-inflicted economic recession; or reach an agreement. The overriding speculation seems to be that a mutual decision will be reached by 17 October to save the US defaulting on its debts, particularly since the country is one of the most heavily indebted in the world in terms of fiscal imbalances. But when the American public is effectively expendable, ruled by a government that just prints money when needed, a functioning economy and democracy is disappearing further into the distance. While labour and production was once needed to keep an economy healthy, quantitative easing and speculation is now generating a false economy that leaves the ordinary worker almost redundant. As a result, the government can sit through this losing little sleep, even when surveys show that voters hate the shutdown more than Obamacare.
Unpopularity aside, this is unlikely to constitute anything more than a blip in the ocean for the ruling elite. In fact, as colourful economics commentator Max Kaiser pointed out, the Senate are likely to utilise the time to keep a close eye on their stocks and shares, using insider knowledge to bet on the outcome. And, according to US senator Rand Paul, 85% of all government activities are still being funded: the Federal Reserve, the Supreme Court, the prison system, and the IRS are all still functioning – it is just the lives of the ordinary people being affected, testament to how completely out of control the country is in terms of its policies both at home and abroad. A country hell-bent on spending the majority of its funds on weapons and illegal wars all in the name of anti-terrorism, while depriving its citizens of basic human rights in the guise of democratic debate. Whatever the US is now – it is certainly not the leader of the free world, nor a democracy.