The government shutdown is part of much broader assault on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Despite some of the rhetoric, low-income and struggling Americans are not just "caught in the crossfire." On the contrary, they are the intentional targets of a senseless political attack.
This shutdown has nothing to do with government spending, and the budget. As Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) makes very clear, "Democrats have already agreed to the level of spending proposed by the Republicans, at least in the short-term."
The continuing resolution that the Senate passed in September, if continued through the rest of the year, would allocate $986 billion in discretionary spending, far below the $1,203 billion that President Obama called for in his first budget proposal. It's essentially on par with the draconian Ryan Plan that called for only $967 billion in discretionary spending.
The shutdown is not about the fiscal year 2014 budget, cutting spending, or reducing the national debt. It is about undermining the Affordable Care Act and denying health coverage to millions. It is part of a multi-prong attack on the President's signature health care plan, and it reflects a total disregard for the well being of families everywhere.
Even before the shutdown, Republicans succeeded in eroding the Affordable Care Act by waging war at the state level. A New York Times article this week reports that "two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of low-wage workers" that would have otherwise been covered under Obamacare will now go uninsured:
"Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help."
A little background might be useful here. The Affordable Care Act uses two strategies to make health insurance (truly) available to people who were left out in the cold previously. As the New York Times article explains:
"The law was written to require all Americans to have health coverage. For lower and middle-income earners, there are subsidies on the new health exchanges to help them afford insurance. An expanded Medicaid program was intended to cover the poorest. In all, about 30 million uninsured Americans were to have become eligible for financial help."
By refusing to participate in the Medicaid expansion, the mostly Republican-controlled states are effectively punching a hole right in the middle of the Affordable Care Act – a hole through which eight million struggling Americans will now fall.
"The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides."
Black Americans are much more likely to be uninsured than whites going forward because so many of the states that have refused to participate in the Medicaid expansion are Southern states in the heart of the Black Belt – states where a history of racism has prevented many blacks from achieving middle-class security.
But, denying health care coverage to eight million people living in these 26 states isn't enough. Now Tea Party Republicans are demanding a delay in implementation of the Affordable Care Act in all 50 states in exchange for ending the government shutdown. Again, those who go without health care as a result of this assault on the Affordable Care Act are not simply "caught in the crossfire" — they are it's intended targets.
Meanwhile, there are those who actually are "caught in the crossfire" of this shutdown, including: 800,000 federal workers (who are also disproportionately black) and many more government contractors; low-income families who rely on Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) nutrition programs or Head Start (as of Wednesday, an estimated 50 Head Start sites have closed, affecting 3,200 preschool-aged children from low-income families); vacationing families stranded outside of national parks that are now closed; and many others.
Enough already! It's time for action…
If your US Representative is one of the Republican hold-outs, tell them to send a "clean continuing resolution," with no delays in the Affordable Care Act, to the House floor for a vote.
If your US Representative is one of the Democrats, tell them to stay strong and refuse to cave into the Tea Party extremists who want to undermine the Affordable Care Act.