US government shutdown: Obama's welfare socialism sparked this crisis, not the Constitution
By Tim Stanley US politics Last updated: October 2nd, 2013
One thing often heard in media commentary on the shutdown: what must the Chinese think when the US can't even keep its government open?
The correct answer: who cares? China's a communist state – its government never sleeps. America's a democracy – if it has an honest disagreement with itself then it debates it openly within the context of law and the Constitution. If things must shutdown for a bit, so be it.
The Founding Fathers divided the US government in order to keep it limited. No, they never thought things would break down quite this way, but then they never thought that elected officials would try to grow the government so large. Since the 1930s, a series of administrations has tried to expand the responsiblities of the federal government far beyond its original remit, usually bypassing the Constitution in order to avoid breaking with it altogether (covert action signed off by the executive, generously interpreting the Commerce Clause etc). Crucially, this was done by both parties with fairly equal contempt for the founding principles of their republic. Democrats gave us the Great Society, Republicans gave us Medicare part D, the Patriot Act and the Iraq War.
But in recent years things have gotten a lot worse. To understand the roots of the present crisis you have to understand how revolutionary the Democratic power grab of 2008-2010 was. Realising that their time in charge of all three parts of the government was short, the Dems tried to do as much as possible in those two years – which meant taking a leap towards refashioning America into a social democracy. The auto industry got a bailout with a nice sweet-heart deal for the unions. Welfare jumped an astonishing 32 per cent, with the outcome that by 2012 roughly 100 million Americans were getting some kind of benefit with the average outlay being $9,000. On top of all of this, Obama came up with Obamacare – the programme behind the shutdown. Crucially, the Democrats did not negotiate with the Republicans over its content and the only way they could get its patently unAmerican concept of a mandated-purchase into law was for the Supreme Court to redefine it as a tax. If the Republicans oppose it then they do so because it is expensive, may do damage to business and isn't concomitant with the American Way.
So the Republicans are feeling obstinate. But so are the Democrats. It's often forgotten that the Democrat-controlled Senate has failed to approve a budget for three years – that's why it should could come as no surprise that they refused to do so again this time. And what won't the Senate Democrats budge on? A one year delay in funding for Obamacare and a prohibition on lawmakers, their staff and top administration officials from getting government subsidies for their health care. If the Republicans are using their power to hold the Democrats hostage then the Democrats are using their power to hold the Republicans hostage. In fact, it's less of a hostage situation than it is a Mexican standoff over a large cache of taxpayers' money.
It all sounds calamitous, but when the US government shuts down what does it really amount to? Museums and parks are closed (and will probably soon reopen thanks to emergency legislation) but Social Security checks still go out and the military will still be paid. Some 800,000 federal workers have been sent home early but this only amounts to 20 per cent of the total federal workforce. That's right. The US government has grown so big that 800,000 people is a drop in the ocean. Of course, things will be a lot worse when it comes to debating raising the debt ceiling. A default really would be disastrous for America and the entire global economy and everything should be done to avoid it.
The bottom line is that while America's democracy is functioning the way it was intended to do (debating, mulling and even stalling grand utopian projects), its politicians are failing to live up to the standards and values set by the Founding Fathers. The largest party in Congress isn't the Democrats or the Republicans. It's become the welfare/warfare crowd who have been spending and spending for the last century like it has no consequences. And what has pushed America to the brink in the past few years has been an overambitious, highly partisan President willing to gamble everything on social reform. So enough grumbling about a broken America – let's talk more about failed policies.
Finally, if you think China worrying about American democracy is hard enough to swallow, consider this. Al Jazeera says that the Republicans are guilty of "extremist actions". Al Jazeera. "Mr Pot, let me introduce you to Mr Kettle…"