By Diane Muste and Alvin Blanco, NYC Workers’ Voice
Since Monday, Oct. 1st, several institutions and sectors of services of the U.S government have been partially interrupted. This happened because of the lack of agreement between the Republican and Democratic Party representatives on the approval of the Federal State budget. This directly affects the American working class: around 800 thousand federal workers were furloughed (which means they can’t go to work and are not going to receive any payment), and another million were asked to work without pay.
The most explicit disagreement on the budget is on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (popularly known as “Obamacare”), a reform of the actual health system approved by the Democrats in 2010. Regarding the budget, the Republican congressmen disagree on the timing of its application and about the taxes it establishes for employers. They aim to defend the economic interest that they represent electorally, but also to have a major control on the Democratic Party proposal and to interfere and benefit from the federal disbursement (the plan of public investment and the way the money is distributed within different programs).
The Democrats accuse the Republicans of not collaborating with the government. They want to go forward with “Obamacare” and channel the popular hopes for an accessible health system- an electoral promise that helped Obama win the last presidential run. This is why the official mass media does not mention, for example, the fact that this health reform establishes a compulsory tax to all Americans that do not obtain health care insurance by the beginning of 2014. It also doesn’t mention much about the health insurance “marketplace” that is being proposed: each citizen will have health care coverage according to their capacity of paying for it- which is a very unfair conception of a health system.
The Day Children had to go back Home
The shutdown doesn’t affect all services in the same way. In fact, the government and the Congress were very selective about that. According the US Office of Personnel Management, some employees “performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” will continue to work and to guarantee public services. The Department of Homeland Security will remain open with its main functions being preserved. “Immigration Enforcement and Removal Operations”, the program responsible for immigrant deportations, is carrying on, but programs such as “State, local, and federal law enforcement civil rights and civil liberties training”, ”Civil rights and civil liberties complaint lines and investigations” and the “Chemical site security regulatory program” were part of the shutdown.
Programs and agencies that face strong opposition in the public opinion, such as the operations of the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, who operate the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, are operating. On the other hand, in the Department of Health and Human Services, 52% of the workers were furloughed, as well as the majority of the employees in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), the Administration for Community Living (ACL), and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
Television broadcasts have emphasized the museum and national park closures in the news. But not only, or mainly, were tourists affected. Millions of Americans can’t access vital services. Children, old persons, women, poor people and, of course, public workers were the most affected. Thousands of children that take part in the Head Start Program were sent back home. This program provides preschool education for children from low-income families. In total, 19,000 children are being affected. It’s important to say, however, that this is not the first time that these children are affected by the government’s maneuvers: in March, when the sequestration cuts took place, the Head Start funding was affected and 57,000 children were sent back home after the very first weeks of classes.
Ironically, Senators, Representatives, judges, and even the President and Secretaries have had their high wages preserved. People with the power to decide about the lives and wellness of millions are not affected by the government shutdown in the same way. This is truly American “exceptionalism”.
Capitalism in Crisis
Democrats accuse Republicans. Republicans accuse Democrats. But despite the clashes in Congress, they agree about the main issue: workers and poor people must pay for the capitalist crisis. The budgetary crisis is only a new chapter of The U.S.’s deep economic crisis.
The Daily Treasury Statement for the fiscal year of 2013, published Sept. 30th, revealed that during the presidency of Barack Obama the U.S. public debt increased 90%. Now, the U.S. government debt held by the public is almost $12 trillion.
Increasing public debt is the path the government is choosing to face the economic crisis. Such money was used to save banks and big corporations. This is becoming clear to most Americans. According to Pew Research Center in a recent poll, “nearly seven-in-ten Americans say large banks and financial institutions have benefited the most from post-recession government policies”.
But the rise of public debt shows other governmental priorities. Obama’s government didn’t revert the tendency of the rise of military expenses. In fact, these expenditures are more than $50 billion higher than the highest expenditure in Bush’s administration. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Obama administration has spent $682 billion in the U.S. military budget.
Democrats and Republicans agree that public debt is a problem that can jeopardize American capitalism. Both are against real cuts in military expenditures. And most important, they agree that workers and poor people must to pay for the crisis they caused. So what is the debate? Their disagreements are mainly on rhythm and priorities. Democrats prefer to adopt a more flexible tactic, such as sequestration and a double-edged politics that assure the preservation of some social programs. Republicans are pushing for a long term cut-policy, to dismantle programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and to further slash the corporate taxes and income taxes of the richest.
In order to approve “Obamacare” and the federal budget, the Democrats have already declared they’re willing to “touch” the actual amount defined for areas as Medicare and Social Security. In other words, there’s a new agreement coming up that will be able to solve the “shutdown”. The bad news is that this agreement will be, at the same time, the approval of an unpopular health system reform combined with financial cuts in social areas. For the American capitalists, this is killing two birds with one stone. For the American working class, this means them once again paying for the economic system’s crisis.