Shutdown Showdown

4 December 2013

"Due to a lapse in funding, the US Federal Government has shut down.”

The Senate and the House of Representatives were unable to pass a bill to fund the government before October 1, when the new fiscal year started. Or more specifically, a group of 'Tea Party' Republicans shut down the federal government in attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, sometimes named Obamacare by detractors.

The world is getting a full view of congress' usual petty posturing, but in this instance the hissy fit concerns what is generally considered a human right in most other countries: affordable access to health care.

It doesn't take hard numbers to show most US citizens support the Affordable Care Act. The bill passed in both the Senate and the House in 2009, and President Obama signed it into law in 2010. The US Supreme Court upheld the Act in summer 2012, deeming it constitutional. And that's not to mention in November 2012, the US reelected the president for a second term, despite the fact that he spent most of his first term working on the policy.

Obamacare has several components, some of which have already begun over the last three years, but one very large thorn in the side of Republicans is the mandate starting in January 2014 for companies with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance or face fines.

Republicans claim they are concerned about the effect on the economy, the destruction of jobs and the financial burden on employers. Though statistics released by the White House show that most US businesses are exempt from the mandate. Specifically, 96 per cent of US companies have fewer than 50 people, and will not have any employer responsibility requirements. Most firms, 96 per cent, with 50 or more employees already offer health insurance.

This means, less than 0.2 per cent of all US companies (about 10,000 out of 6M) may face employer responsibility requirements. As of October 1, despite the shutdown, a few health care exchanges opened for individuals and small businesses to find affordable health insurance.

What these elected officials are overlooking is that removing the barriers to affordable health care opens the opportunity for more entrepreneurship, and therefore greater innovation. And potentially more jobs, more manufacturing and more growth for the economy. It's shocking since pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is a mainstay of Republican hyperbole.

Instead, these Republicans shut down the government the same day the new healthcare website received 4.7 million unique visitors in its first 24 hours, according to the Health and Human Services Department.

While they've likely applauded each other's efforts on staying strong in the face of their party, now, to the rest of the world, the US simply looks weak, and that is a legitimate concern. But surely the nation didn't look very strong with millions of sick Americans unable to receive basic health care.