Fork you, America: political chess move attacking Obamacare & budget creates win-win for Republicans, big business

In chess, a fork is a tactic whereby a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. It’s typically difficult or impossible to defend both attacked pieces.

A core group of conservative Republicans created the political equivalent of a fork: defund or delay Obamacare or we’ll shut down the government. Democrats, and much of the pundit class, have been shaking their heads, wringing their hands, verily clutching their pearls in aghast shock. They have applied all sorts of mannered logical arguments against the tactic, which can be summarized as:

  • Implementation of Obamacare will not be affected by a government shutdown
  • Obama will not give up his “signature achievement”
  • Shutting down the government actually costs money, and thus is wasteful
  • This could hurt the recovery

They tried to reason with those Republicans in much the same way that a parent might use their sing-song “adult” voice when trying to reason with a child in full throttle temper tantrum. And they were about as effective as that parent, which is to say not very.

The Democrats and the pundits are all missing the point, though. The Republicans DON’T CARE what happens, because to them either outcome is a win.

“We have a number of Republican senators and lots of Republican House members who don’t believe in government,” [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said on the Senate floor. “They want to get rid of it, and they’re doing everything they can to get rid of it.”

It’s obvious that delaying or defunding Obamacare would be a win for those Republicans. (It would also set a dangerous precedent: the child would realize that all they have to do is throw a hard enough tantrum, and they will get their way.) What is not immediately obvious – but should be once you think about it – is that a government shutdown or refusal to raise the debt ceiling has short- and long-term effects that also meet the conservative Republican agendas of gutting government and favoring big business.

More than 800,000 out of some 2.1 million federal workers have been sent home.
But the image of dismantling DC is false: 85 percent of them work outside the Washington, D.C., metro area  many in rural areas where there are fewer employment options. Focusing solely on Federal employees, though, misses the larger story of the estimated 10 1/2 million Federal contractors who are also affected by the shutdown.

Even if a Federal contract already has funds committed to it, contractors may not be able to work if the work is done at a government office or facility that has been shut down. A protracted closure would not only be hard on employees who would also be furloughed, it would harm small business contractors that may not have the cash flow and liquidity necessary to ride out a shutdown. Forcing smaller contractors out of business only benefits the larger contracting firms.

Of course the regulatory agencies – the agencies that work for the people, whose rules and programs are there to protect people – won’t be able to do their work. The Environmental Protection Agency will close down almost entirely, except for work related to Superfund sites. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission will shut down. The FDA will be unable to keep up the majority of its food-safety, nutrition and cosmetics oversight. (See full list of agency impacts here.) Those corporations-who-are-people-and-can-fund-campaigns are not exactly crying in their cups over this turn of events.

And if the economy is harmed as a result of this Congress-sponsored terrorism? So what. Tide goes out, tide goes in. After every recession there is a recovery. A rising tide may (or may not) lift all boats, but it definitely lifts yachts higher. Paul Krugman points out:

Wall Street was bailed out, while workers and homeowners weren’t. Our so-called recovery has done nothing much for ordinary workers, but incomes at the top have soared, with almost all the gains from 2009 to 2012 going to the top 1 percent, and almost a third going to the top 0.01 percent — that is, people with incomes over $10 million.

The Republicans are essentially saying fork you, America. Regardless of the outcome, they see it as a win for them and for their big business interests.

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