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Congress Battle Over Health Care Threatens Budget Stability

  • Cindy Saine
  • Robert Raffaele

Tensions are high in the U.S. Capitol ahead of a midnight Monday deadline to extend federal funding authority to avoid a partial government shutdown. As the U.S. Treasury Department also recently announced that Congress will also need to raise the nation's debt ceiling by October 17, lawmakers may find themselves overwhelmed by a cascade of crises.

Experts say that ideological differences between Democrats and the most conservative Republican lawmakers over the role of government in Americans' daily lives are making it increasingly difficult for Congress to conduct its most basic tasks.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz even read a children's story during an all-night Senate session in the midst of a battle that could lead to a government shutdown. Critics called it political theater, while others recalled the iconic American movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which James Stewart plays a junior senator railing against corruption.

Some Americans see a replay in this most recent budget drama. Analyst Charlie Cook predicts Congress will eventually fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. Even if the deadline is missed by a few days, he says, it will get fixed.

"You know the thing about the shutdown, and the debt ceiling as well, is this is like a movie. You know the ending, you just don't know how agonizing and how traumatic it is going to be, but you know what the ending is going to be, and we all know that," said Cook.

Raising the debt ceiling has required to-the-bring fights in the past as well. This persistent series of constant crises and short-term fixes frustrates many, including Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.

“A Band-Aid approach to a world crisis is an embarrassment to Congress, to this country and to the world,” said Reid in August 2011.

The president's reform of American health care is at the core of the argument, with lawmakers disagreeing on what the federal government's role should be in providing millions of Americans access to care.

A sector of the American public rose in protest over an enhanced federal role, and the divide in Congress between Republicans and Democrats, who pushed the reform, reflects the divide in the country say observers such as Cook.

"You have a lot of Americans who are very upset with the level of spending and at the level of the national debt. And there's a mentality that we are ‘mad’ as hell and we are not going to take it anymore, and this is just an outlet for that frustration," said Cook.

Other analysts, such as budget expert Stan Collender, say the costs of a shutdown or default will be great and Republicans are playing with political fire.

"I do think they will take it on the chin politically, and some of the non-Tea Party wing members, the non-militant conservative members of the Republican Party, are finally going to go and say 'Enough, we have to come up with something that stops this because we are bleeding politically,'" said Collender.

The last act in this drama might come, as it has in similar ones, at the last moment; the House of Representatives could vote as the Monday midnight deadline approaches.
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