By RACHEL HARRIS ’14
In the wake of Congress’ inability to come to a budgeting agreement for the new fiscal year, 800,000 government workers have been furloughed indefinitely. There’s been a lot of finger pointing in Washington since Tuesday, and many, including the president, have been keen to place the blame on House Republicans. Innumerable times this past week I have heard hot phrases condemning Republicans for being responsible for “holding the country hostage” and even being “political terrorists.” Our representatives in Congress sit on Capitol Hill because they were elected by a majority of voters in their respective districts. Blaming Republicans is blaming the democratic process, and blaming the democratic process is completely asinine.
Sure, if you want to be literal about it, then yes, the House Republicans are the immediate perpetrators behind the government shutdown, as they have refused to come to non-negotiable terms to raise the debt ceiling (again) and fund the Affordable Care Act. But the preventability of the shutdown does not rely exclusively on the GOP’s unwillingness to pass these bills through the House. The United States now risks the distinct possibility of having to default on its foreign debt for the first time in its 237-year history, a move that will no doubt weaken the image of the US on the international stage. Our $17 trillion national deficit did not materialize yesterday; it should not be a surprise that the deficit would catch up to us at some point. The Republican Party is trying to call attention to the national debt issue through whistle-blowing. The Republicans don’t want to fund Obamacare because they are opposed to universal healthcare. They realize the country is currently too broke to pay for it.
You might think that our national debt is a consequence of the Bush Administration. There is no doubt that two wars, tax cuts and an unpaid prescription drug plan definitely contributed to the deficit, but Obama has since pulled troops entirely out of Iraq, almost entirely out of Afghanistan, and has succeeded in repealing most of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. By these standards, the economy should be on the fast track to recovery. But the debt is still skyrocketing, and now the country’s largest employer has put 28 percent of the nation’s workforce out of a job. The president no longer has the luxury of removing blame from his own shoulders.
And yet on the same day that 800,000 people wondered how they would make ends meet, healthcare.gov, the official website of government-sponsored healthcare, went live. Although the website struggled to handle what was at times unmanageably high traffic, this day marked the beginning of government-mandated healthcare for all citizens—with the exception of high-level U.S. representatives, who may elect to opt out from the plan.
Yes, the very people who have voted this into law, some of whom have openly admitted to not having read the bill at all, can be exempt from the same plan that is punishable by fines for average citizens, should we not enroll by Dec. 25. Is it just me, or is this not reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm? Are we really about to become a society where some people are, to quote Orwell, more equal than others? Does this not contradict the ACA’s objective of equal access and equal coverage for all? Furthermore, though I cannot speak for everyone, I know that my own parents’ insurance rates have increased by nearly 400 percent since Jan. 1. This is not an expense that our family—or the majority of American households—can afford.
With three kids in college, two 10+ year-old cars with serious mechanical issues and all savings wiped out when my mother lost her job during the recession, I’ve been told to worry. I work two jobs on campus to help pay the bills—many of which are medical. I am no stranger to wanting access to universal healthcare, nor do I believe that people deserve to be declined medical care because they cannot afford to pay for it. But how is the Affordable Care Act affordable if my parents are at serious risk of getting in trouble with the IRS because they can’t afford to subsidize someone else’s premium?
In my mind, there is no doubt that Obamacare needs reforming. Perhaps if the president were not so concerned with his paragraph in the history books, he’d stop and rationalize with congressional Republicans to make universal healthcare more manageable in this economy. Instead, he remains petulant, insisting that his healthcare platform is ready to be implemented as is. As a consequence of this pettiness, my family, and countless others, now worry whether or not we can keep a roof over our heads. I’m sorry, this is not a change I am ready to believe in.