The shutdown is the latest in a sequence of crises manufactured by the US ruling elite over the course of this decade writes Sean Ledwith

Protester outside the US Capitol in Washington, October 4, 2013. Photo: Reuters US capitalism’s dysfunctional political system has hit a new low this month with the government shutdown adversely affecting up to 800,000 federal employees.

The gridlock has been caused by the failure of Democrat and Republican politicians to pass a budget at the start of October authorising federal spending. That dispute has morphed into a separate battle over the raising of the debt ceiling, due in the middle of the same month.

The shutdown is the latest in a sequence of self-inflicted crises manufactured by the ruling elite over the course of this decade.

Three years ago, there was an identical battle over the debt ceiling. Postponement of that generated the fiscal cliff crisis last December. Then earlier this year, the two sides cobbled together the Sequester deal. The latter coming at the price of an estimated 1.6 million jobs lost.

Public disillusionment with the seemingly unending gridlock has reached comical levels as a result. According to one poll, voters had a higher opinion of dog poop than Congress, by a 7 percent margin.

The consequences for the global economy, however, would be anything but funny if the logjam is not broken between Obama and his Tea Party adversaries in Washington.

The near-unimaginable scenario of a US default on its debt obligations has suddenly become a possibility . The higher echelons of the international bankocracy have got the jitters about the consequences of this potentially catastrophic event. Christine Lagarde of the IMF has warned:

‘that degree of disruption, that lack of certainty, that lack of trust in the U.S. signature, it would mean massive disruption the world over…and we would be at risk of tipping yet again into a recession.’

Unreconstructed free market fanatics in the Congressional Tea Party caucus have deservedly borne the brunt of public ire over the fiasco, plunging the Republicans to their worst ever ratings. They are blamed by a 22 point margin for the shutdown, 53% against 31% blaming Obama.

Dr Suess goes to Washington

Die-hard conservatives such as Senator Ted Cruz have orchestrated the gridlock as part of a last-ditch effort to block the progress of the President’s flagship piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare. Last month, Cruz indulgenced in a 21 hour filibuster in the Senate, a bizarre and futile manoeuvre designed to delay the Act.

Referring to such well-known political authorities as Dr Suess and Star Wars, Cruz made the case against Obamacare with compelling insights such as ‘The moon might be as intimidating as Obamacare’ and ‘It’s a little bit like the World Wrestling Federation. It’s wrestling matches where…the outcome is pre-rigged, the outcome is predetermined.’

If the thought that the fate of the global economy is in the cretinous hands of Cruz and co is not scary enough, it should also be noted he is rated as a front-runner for the Presidential nomination in 2016.

Another of the Tea Party die-hards, Senator Mike Lee has argued the ACA is unconstitutional – a view that can only be defended if one has never actually read the Constitution.

The act passed both houses of Congress in 2010 and was then upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. Apparently for Lee, however, this is not enough to qualify as constitutional:

‘Those five lawyers wearing black robes, who we call justices, were no more empowered than the queen of England to impose a tax on the American people .This was a lawless act.’

The Tea Party’s fanatical attachment to the Constitution is clearly only matched by their total ignorance of what is in it.

Along with the rest of the Tea Party faction in Congress, Cruz, Lee and the rest have been feigning outrage at Obama’s apparent refusal to budge over the federal finances but the reality is the situation could not be more satisfying to them. Minnesota Congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, let the cat out of the bag with her characteristically brainless comment that “It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.”

The Republican intransigence has been planned months in advance, orchestrated by the malign influence of the Koch brothers and the neocon Heritage Foundation. One of the members of this notorious right-wing think tank was not as constrained by public relations considerations as other Republicans:

“We felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”

Cruz, Bachmann and the other Tea Part zealots have acquired this totally disproportionate level of influence thanks to Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts, meaning they are virtually fireproof in terms of electoral defeat. Centrist conservatives such as Speaker John Boehner are becoming increasingly exasperated by the antics of what he has termed the “knuckle-draggers” in his own party.

The fear of the centrists that the party will be wiped out in next year’s mid-term elections might be enough incentive to cobble together another deal with the White House to ride out this current crisis.

The limits of Obamacare

The deluded ravings of the Republican right does not mean, however, that Obama is blameless for this fiasco. The Affordable Care Act has been a flawed conception since it was devised by the President in close collaboration with the private sector vampires of the US pharmaceutical industry in 2009. His failure to insist on a single payer mandate (treatment funded at a lower price by the government) means millions of working class Americans without health insurance are vulnerable to the machinations of the giant pharmaceutical companies.

The Act compels employees to purchase insurance by the start of 2014 but leaves them exposed to the free market in order to do so. There were also technical problems with the ACA website when it opened on the first day of October, leaving many hopeful claimants pulling their hair out in frustration.

The federal structure of the US also means Republican politicians at state level can manipulate funding to ensure Obamacare does not reach many of those it is aimed at. As the New York Times reports:

‘A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help…because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans…’

The accumulation of these issues-along with the barrage of Tea Party propaganda – means the principle of socialised healthcare in the US remains unpopular with many citizens, despite the overwhelming need for it. Republican demagogues in Congress have exploited this disaffection to maximum effect.

Siege mentality

Marxist economist, Michael Roberts has summed up the inadequacies of the ACA:

‘Obamacare is a botched measure that only helps a proportion of uninsured Americans.  It is only a subsidy to buy private health insurance which means the money goes to the greedy hands of “big insurance” and private hospitals and doctors.  Millions will not be able to afford even the subsidised health premiums and will not qualify for the laborious medicaid schemes either.’

It is an indication of the siege mentality of the American super rich that even this barely adequate response to the growing impoverishment of the working class is being fought with tooth and claw. The elite and some of their political representatives have become so closeted in their affluence, they are willing to push the global economy over the edge in a deranged effort to resist change.

Little wonder many Americans are unfavourably comparing their politicians with canine excrement.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters