Pete Souza/ The White House
As of Thursday, Oct. 16, the United States government reopened after a 16-day partial-shutdown.
The shutdown came at an especially inconvenient time at the end of the fiscal quarter, when the debt ceiling was reaching its limit. If Congress had not voted to increase the debt ceiling, the U.S. would have had to default on its debt — furthering potential economic disruption.
Political Science Professor Walter Wilson, who has served as an analyst for Texas Public Radio, offered his interpretation of the events.
Wilson explained that the government shutdown occurred when the Republicans in the House of Representatives attached an amendment to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to the resolution providing funding for the government. The Democrat-controlled Senate then refused to accept a bill with this amendment.
According to Wilson, “The strategy was to threaten shutdown and economic ruin unless conservatives got their way on the Affordable Care Act.”
Because neither party was willing to budge on the issue of the ACA, a new resolution for the funding of the government was not passed before the deadline on Sept. 30 and the government went into partial shutdown.
Finally, on Oct. 16, Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to a deal that extended funding for government services until Jan. 15 while leaving the Affordable Care Act relatively untouched.
“So ultimately,” Wilson attested, “the bill funding and reopening the government, as well as raising the debt ceiling, although temporary, made no meaningful concessions to conservatives on the Affordable Care Act.” Wilson warned that more debate over the budget and the ACA could be expected in the future.
Wilson stated that the ACA remained intact after the shutdown and is currently being implemented as planned. He predicts that the ACA will lower the cost of insurance and provide greater access to health care, and that Americans will warm up to it as a result.
“Clearly the Republican Party deserves the blame,” said Wilson. “Conservatives acted irresponsibly by holding the government and debt payments hostage in order to try to force concessions that they could not win through the normal legislative process.”
He also believed that moderates within the Republican Party deserve blame for what he deemed “not having the guts to stand up to such political terrorism.”
With declining approval ratings, it is possible the shutdown will affect 2014-midterm elections. According to a Gallup Poll, approval of the Republican Party fell by 10 percent, while Democratic Party approval ratings rose by one percent.
“It’s possible, especially if the GOP doesn’t learn its lesson,” Wilson explained. He pointed out that nearly two-thirds of House Republicans — including every Texas Republican in both the House and Senate — voted to keep the government shut down and for the U.S. to default on its debt.
According to Wilson, these divisions indicate that incumbent Republicans are not sure what is more dangerous — a primary challenge from the far right for not adhering to conservative values or the possibility of losing to a Democrat by being immoderate.
However, since the government shutdown, Tea Party Republicans, such as Ted Cruz, have seen their popularity rise among ultra conservatives and decline among moderate Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center.
Following a 21-hour speech made to bar passage of an ACA funded budget, Ted Cruz gained notoriety as the most active opponent of Obamacare.
When asked if shutting down the government is a tactic that will ever be used again, Wilson responded saying, “It’s hard to say.”
He explained that many Tea Party members of Congress come from very safe Republican-dominated districts where their number-one concern is losing in the primary to someone claiming to be even more conservative.
“Sadly, this means that these individuals have no reason to try to please the average American, who simply wants moderate policy, compromise, and a functional government,” said Wilson.
Wilson argues that it is a complex issue. He believes that Republican leaders can bring stability to the party if they act to isolate the power of the “irresponsible and unreasonable elements of their party” and pass bi-partisan legislation.
But he warns that if they take these actions they will risk their own jobs because conservative Republicans may decide to remove them from leadership positions for cooperating with Democrats.