Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
In President Barack Obama’s words yesterday, “One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government because they didn’t like one law.” That one law is the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday a key provision of the law which allows individuals without affordable insurance to shop for policies went into effect. Tea Party Republicans and their supporters in the House demanded that the law be defunded or at least delayed in exchange for averting a government shutdown. Senate Democrats and the president were unwilling to budge. Diane and her guests to discuss what’s different about this impasse and where we go from here.
- Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), 26th District
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks."
- Molly Ball Staff writer, The Atlantic.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The federal shutdown enters day two with no end in sight. Republicans in the House refuse to fund the government unless Democrats agree to defund or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A federal shutdown is not unprecedented, but some veteran Washington watchers say the gridlock this time around seems especially challenging. Joining me to talk about prospects going forward, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Molly Ball, staff writer with The Atlantic.
MS. DIANE REHMBut first, joining us by phone from his office on Capitol Hill, Congressman Mike Burgess, who represents the 26th District of Texas. Thanks for joining us, sir.
REP. MICHAEL BURGESSGood morning. Thanks for having me on.
REHMAnd thank you for being with us. Congressman Burgess, do you consider yourself a member of the Tea Party?
BURGESSWell, I represent a district in North Texas. It has always been a conservative area. You may put whatever label on it you wish, but even back when I was a child and every political office in the State of Texas was filled with people of the Democratic Party, these were very conservative Democrats that populated political offices in North Texas. Now political parties have changed, but the base-line conservatism has not.
REHMSo from your perspective, what's it going to take to reopen the federal government?
BURGESSWell, for the past six months, anyone who would talk to me, I have been pointing out that September 30th, the day we just crossed, was going to end all appropriations and unless something new was done all of the appropriations would lapse and interestingly enough the following day we would have people going online to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. I did not think it was going to go well. I do not know at this point if the problems that were evident yesterday are going to be embedded and persistent problems. But anyone who had interviewed multiple people in the federal agencies, as I have done on committee work, pretty much had a good idea things were not going to go well.
BURGESSI think this, you know, begs the question -- you have a low that was created under the worst possible circumstances, entirely partisan all of the way through, never got any bipartisan support. It was never intended to become law. It should have gone to a conference committee and had the rough edges knocked off, but it didn't do that. It got signed into law. The drafting errors are legion in this legislation. And you're seeing today how difficult it is to implement a law that was not carefully crafted, not carefully drafted in the first place. So do I have an obligation as someone who has a Constitutional responsibility to monitor the spending of the federal government -- do I have an obligation to ask the question is this reasonable for us to throw good money after bad?
BURGESSThat's always been the issue coming up to October 1st of this year.
REHMI know that lots of people at least wanted to sign up yesterday. The phones were flooded. As you say, there were a number of glitches. We shall see in the weeks and months to come how many people really, really do want to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, which, by the way, was originally a Republican plan, one that many Democrats had to compromise to accept. What alternatives do you support as a way to help people without health insurance get health insurance?
BURGESSWell, I've been pretty outspoken about this, as well. And for the last five years I've had a health policy website called HealthCaucus.org that is not a political site. It's a representational site. I wrote a book on this subject back on the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. Granted the first ten chapters were me whining about why no one would listen to me, but the last two chapters were solution focused. So I've been outspoken on the issues of why did we not craft solutions in a way that would not break the bank and would not be disruptive to the system that was working for arguably two-thirds of the American people, which was in the large-group market.
REHMBut would you agree…
BURGESSWe had problems in the individual market, problems in the small-group market. These problems could have been addressed without simply turning everything on its head. Now, look, to me the bottom line for this is going to be about a year from now when people get their next bill to re-up for their health insurance. I would predict the cost is going to be high right now, higher than what people are used to paying, but a year from now it is going to be astonishingly high.
REHMAll right. In what ways does the federal shutdown specifically affect citizens in your district of Texas?
BURGESSWell, to be perfectly honest, the number of phone calls I'm getting from the district -- I'm getting calls, obviously, from all over the country, but the calls I'm getting from the district are few and far between. You know, I don't have a military base in my area. I recognize that the number of federal employees that are in the Denton County, North Tarrant County area, while not zero, it is a smaller number than some other districts represent. So perhaps the pressure from that standpoint is not what other members of Congress are experiencing. But, make no mistake about it, an appropriations lapse is a serious consequence.
BURGESSI had argued, honestly, from the time that the last continuing resolution had passed that we ought to do our appropriations work. Anybody who heard me in the summer town halls would have heard me complain about the fact that we are far behind on our appropriations work and we've got scarce time to accomplish those…
REHMLots to do, yeah, right.
BURGESS…in September, and that is the better way to go about it. What is happening today? After our conversation I'll go over to the Rules Committee. We'll do five rules to allow five small appropriations bills to move through the floor of the House. You saw some last night that were attempted to move through on suspension. That didn't work because the Democrats all opposed them. We'll bring them up under a Rule. They can pass with a simple majority. They are going to be supported by a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives. And I'm hopeful that the Senate will take them up.
BURGESSThey did, with the military funding on Saturday night. That passed unanimously in the House.
BURGESSThe Senate obviously could not ignore that.
REHMHowever, the White House is saying that what you're trying to do is to lift this federal shutdown piece by piece. And he's not willing to do that. Congressman Burgess…
BURGESSThat's not his job, though. Diane, in all honesty, that is not his job. He's the executive. We are the legislative branch. Now, you can argue that we didn't do our work in the spring and summer that should have been done, okay. I get that. And that's a valid criticism. But the fact that we're doing our work now in no way gives the president license to say what we're doing is inappropriate. What we're doing is our Constitutional obligation.
REHMCongressman, can you tell me what the numbers are of uninsured health citizens in your district?
BURGESSWell, a study that was done by the census bureau, really before the Affordable Care Act passed, had shown the 16th District in Texas to have one of the lowest rates of uninsurance. Texas, historically, has had a higher number. You can't really translate the experience in Texas to other states because Texas does have a robust safety net system. And this is one of the things that is put in peril by some of the policies in the Affordable Care Act, where funding for the…
REHMDo you have any idea…
BURGESS…hospitals will be threatened.
REHMDo you have any idea what percentage of those qualify for Medicaid?
BURGESSUnder the current law anyone who qualifies for Medicaid could sign up. The actual penetration rate of people signing up for Medicaid is nowhere near 100 percent. And I know this from my days working in the practice of medicine and working in the hospital. Often times there was someone who came in with no evidence of an ability to pay, but actually they qualified for Medicaid and the hospital was pretty good about getting them signed up.
REHMBut I mean in your own district, do you have any idea what percentage of those who are uninsured actually qualify for Medicaid?
BURGESSFor current Medicaid or…
BURGESS…the expanded Medicaid?
REHMFor current Medicaid.
BURGESSI don't have a number. I can tell you that when those people were identified certainly doctors' offices and hospitals would help them sign up.
BURGESSOne of the big problems we have in Texas, of course, as you know, is we do have a number of people living there who don’t have the benefit of a social security number. And it is hard to sign up for a federal benefit without that.
REHMTell me how shutting down the government led to what everyone agrees are needed improvements to the law as it stands now? How could that work?
BURGESSWell, the fact of the matter is there has been no serious effort on the part of the administration or people in the federal agencies, not perhaps to change things, not to alter things, but, as you know, there was much of the law as written and signed that was left up to the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. So the administrative rulemaking in this law has been phenomenal. To get people from the agencies to come in and talk to us about how those rules are being constructed, what things might be done to improve those rules as they're written, you just can't get a response from the administration.
BURGESSAnd that's what's been so frustrating. The agencies would not share data with us about where they were in the sign-up process, where they were with the federal hub and building the computer and the interfaces that are going to have to exist to allow their federal hub to work.
REHMOne final point, one of our listeners wrote to us yesterday saying, "The Republican Party refuses to fund the U.S. government unless millions of Americans do not have access to affordable health care." What would you say to that listener?
BURGESSWell, I don't think that's an entirely accurate representation. My concern as an individual, as a Representative, regardless of party, is that we are going down a road with the Affordable Care Act where, as Max Baucus correctly, I think, predicted there is a train wreck coming. The cost of this thing has been completely underestimated by the Congressional Budget Office. And people are going to see this. When they get their bill to re-up for their insurance a year from today, that is going to be something that is, again, astonishingly high. I believe people will be -- if something has not happened before then, I believe people are going to ask us, you've got to undo this, just as they did to Chairman Rostenkowski back in 1988.
REHMCongressman, thank you so much for joining us. Congressman Michael Burgess, who represents the 26th District of Texas.
REHMAnd for the first part of our program on the shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, you heard from Congressman Michael Burgess, Republican of Texas representing the 26th District. Now here in the studio Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. He's co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." A new expanded paperback is now out with an updated version. Also Molly Ball, staff writer for The Atlantic.
REHMApparently Nancy in Cincinnati was listening to the conversation with Congressman Burgess. She says, "The representative" -- she uses some funny words -- "is wrong. If Republicans wanted the bill vetted before passing they could have been part of it when it was drafted. They refused to do so. Now they complain about the results. All they seem to want is to dictate the results of our democracy their way. No compromise do they offer." Is that a fair statement, Norm Ornstein?
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINIt's really pretty close to it, Diane. You know, if we go back through the history of the Affordable Care Act, we know that from the beginning, the House Republicans made it clear they were not going to cooperate on any kind of health care plan. They did not want to have input with something that could pass in a bipartisan way.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINWhat we also know, which goes against the sort of mean that this was jammed through, is that in the Senate we had a gang of six, a bipartisan gang led by Max Bacchus, the chairman of the Finance Committee and his counterpart Chuck Grassley of Iowa that deliberated for almost seven months. The framework they used to start with was Grassley's framework from that earlier Republican attempt to provide an alternative to the Clinton Care. That's what the Affordable Care Act is. Call it Obamacare, you could call it Grassley Care or Hatch Care.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINAnd the fact is, after a couple of months those negotiations became faux negotiations. And what Congressman Burchess says is, we want to make it work. But he's voted every single time 40 plus to defund Obamacare, not once for constructive amendments.
MS. MOLLY BALLWell, and, you know, Democrats at the time that this legislation was being considered really bent over backwards to try to get Republicans to come along with this legislation because I think they knew on some level that this kind of partisan conflict is what we would get if it didn't have any kind of bipartisan crafting. And that is part of the reason that the opposition to it has been so unified and so strong is because it is a partisan dividing line because there is no way to say that, you know, Republicans had any say in this legislation.
MS. MOLLY BALLThat is a decision that the Republicans made but I think the reason that, you know, you had a lot of criticism of Democrats from their left for how far they went to the center toward the conservative solutions of crafting health care legislation. But the reason they did that was because they knew this legislation would be much safer if there was any buy-in from the other party.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers here. Let's go to the phones. Rebecca in Little Elm, Texas, you're on the air.
REBECCAHi, thanks for...
REBECCARepresentative Burgess is our representative and I applaud civil servants, you know, our politicians. But also, you know, my husband is furloughed now and our family's livelihood is, you know, up in the air. I just feel like sometimes the politicians are so far outside of, you know, the everyday walking shoes of the people they're representing. You know, if his pay was directly tied, you know, to adding Obamacare to this funding bill, you know, would he still have voted the way he voted, you know?
REHMNorm, it's an interesting point because now people are going to feel this furlough. Her husband is furloughed. What is that going -- pardon me -- to mean as this shutdown goes forward?
ORNSTEINIt's going to be a very interesting dynamic, Diane, because millions and millions of Americans who think that, well, the government doesn't really affect them are going to see what actually government does. You start with over 2 million federal employees -- well over, many of whom will never get paid back because they're furloughed as nonessential. Others of whom will work now but won't get paid for some considerable period of time. If you're going paycheck to paycheck, that's just awful.
ORNSTEINLarge numbers of employees of contractors for the federal government will also be hit. Many of them are in Republican districts. And by the way, many of the programs that the federal government engages in have far more activity, not perhaps in Congressman Burchess' district where maybe there aren't huge federal installations, but they're more in red states than they are in blue states. So we may get some blowback.
ORNSTEINRemember, you shut down the national parks. It's not just the people who have nonrefundable tickets or plans to go visit a park. There are tens of billions of dollars generated for motels and hotels, restaurants, raft outfitters and the like surrounding the national park. It's going to be a major hit. And the question is, how long will it take before that blowback really reaches an intense point? In 1995, it was three weeks plus.
ORNSTEINYeah, and this time remember you've got a lot of members who weren't there at the time who think that the only problem they had was they didn't hold out long enough.
REHMMolly, what percentage of Republicans actually consider themselves Tea Party members?
BALLWell, you've got a Tea Party caucus in the House and I think most of the sort of Whip counts, as we've been watching this internal drama within the Republican Party and the House play out because that's really what this is. It isn't Democrats versus Republicans. It's Republicans versus Republicans, with the majority of Republicans having been pushed into an outcome that they didn't want. But this small number, probably between 30 and 35 members of the House of Representatives who are not particularly vulnerable except potentially to a primary challenge in their home districts electorally. And for them this is a stand on principle.
BALLSo I don't think that they're really amenable to being swayed by the fact that people are upset about their vacations or the fact that people are missing a couple of paychecks because to them they are averting a disaster of world historical proportions in their attempt to stop Obamacare. Which, by the way, they are not doing, right, because as we've seen, the exchanges are opening anyway.
REHMExactly. It's going to -- yeah.
BALLBut for them, almost anything is justified to try to get their way on it.
REHMBut Norm, you see this as potentially a huge disaster in the making.
ORNSTEINI'm scared to death, Diane, because we're not just talking about a shutdown of the government.
REHMAre you really?
ORNSTEINLet me embellish on what Molly said. Ron Rapoport, who's a political scientist at William and Mary, has done now two massive surveys of self-identified members of FreedomWorks, which is a pretty good catchall for the Tea Party, including one before and one after the 2012 elections. This is a group of people who, first of all, are not tied to the Republican Party. They're hostile to the Republican Party. They're tied to their ideology. They don't like the leaders.
ORNSTEINAnd in the post-2012 survey, they are absolutely convinced that the reason that Mitt Romney lost was because he was a liberal or a moderate. And they love Ted Cruz. And, by the way, Mike Burgess said that Ted Cruz is his hero in a meeting last week. He's sort of the one who's out there driving it. We're headed on October 17, two-and-a-half weeks into a shutdown for the key moment when the debt ceiling gets breached. And if it does we hit default.
ORNSTEINWe know from Robert Costa who writes probably better about what's inside the House Republican caucus for the national review than anybody, that they are united by and large on a strategy to hold out at least until the 17th. Then tie default to the government shutdown, believing that then they can up their demands and force Harry Reid and Barack Obama to accede to many of their...
REHMAnd where is Speaker Boehner in all this? Is he totally sidelined or is he totally captive?
BALLHe's sort of at the mercy of these people because he has made a decision that he is not going to violate the Hastert Rule, which is the rule that says that majority of the majority. And for him this is self preservation because if a majority of Republicans don't agree with him, that is what it takes to get rid of him as speaker.
REHMBut how many are breaking away? We've heard John McCain, we've heard Peter King all say, this is ridiculous. This law is now the law of the land.
ORNSTEINWell, Peter King tried to get a revolt going from the more moderate conservatives. And, by the way, this isn't moderates versus conservatives. It's conservatives versus radicals. But the pragmatic conservatives, he thought he could get 25 to vote for a straightforward clean continuing resolution. He got six.
ORNSTEINAnd there are now ten on record as saying that they want a resolution.
ORNSTEINBut, you know, to reinforce what Molly said -- and once Robert Costa reinforced it in an interview with -- as recline -- if you have 25 or 30 or 40, that's not going to be enough for John Boehner. The Hastert Rule as it used to be called, which isn't really a rule, was the majority of the majority. They're going to need far more than a majority because Boehner is not in a position where he, at this point -- and he may not be for a long time -- will bring something up on the House floor that will pass with more Democrats than Republicans.
ORNSTEINIt's the 40 to 60 to 80 who are way over on the radical side of the caucus who are driving this process, not the leadership, not the moderate conservatives.
REHMSo while some people are talking or hoping that this could be over by the end of the week, both of you are suggesting it could go on a lot longer, Molly.
BALLI wouldn't be surprised to see it go on longer. And just to build on what Norm was saying, this is not even about those individual members who are part of that sort of Tea Party caucus in the House. It is about the Republican grassroots. It is about those members of the Tea Party movement who are very, very effective at flooding the phone lines and flooding the town halls and going to these members. You heard Congressman Burchess saying most of the calls he's getting are not from in his district. They're from around the country. And it is, in a way, a real grassroots success story, what these groups have managed to pull out.
BALLBut as Norm also said, they have no institutional loyalty to the Republican Party. They consider themselves hostile to the Republican Party in a lot of ways. And so the Republican Party having thought they sort of co-opted the Tea Party in 2010 has sort of reaped the whirlwind that now they have this force they can't control.
REHMAll right. To Marion in Southern Pines, N.C. You're on the air.
MARIONI would like to direct my comment to Molly Ball because I am an Atlantic subscriber.
MARIONAnd I just -- well, you're welcome. I just want to say that, well, I've been voting since 1962. And I want to say that I am one of the proud supporters of Barack Obama. And I just want to remind everyone that he received historic numbers of votes, 66 million and we haven't gone anywhere, we're not going anywhere. We voted for his policies and his programs. And I can tell you -- Diane asked a question at the beginning of the program, well, what is different about this shutdown? What is different is that this remarkable, extraordinary man is black. He is a black man. I think this is all about racism.
MARIONMitch McConnell said on day one after the 2008 elections, we are going to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president. I have never heard another leader in 50 years of voting say about a white president, we're going to make sure that this white man is a one-term president. And I have joined the Moral Monday protests and the NAACP leadership in North Carolina. We are pushing back here.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've had numerous people call and write and talk about the issue of race. Is it one issue, Norm, or is it the issue?
ORNSTEINIt's one but it's a significant one. You know, if you go back to 1993, as soon as Bill Clinton was elected, he was under assault. And remember there were editorials in the Wall Street Journal intimating that he had been an accessory to murder when he had been governor of Arkansas.
ORNSTEINSo attempts to delegitimize presidents are not new with Barack Obama. But we're seeing race emerge, and emerge in a very troubling way now, even more directly. I was mentioning before we went on the air that Ann Coulter went on Sean Hannity's show a couple of weeks ago and referred to Barack Obama as a monkey for Vladimir Putin. I view that as just vial and reprehensible almost beyond belief. But this stuff is getting more vocal now and it makes it clear that the attempt to delegitimize Obama, a ruthlessly pragmatic attempt to delegitimize a Democratic president has that added really awful characteristic of race.
BALLWell, I want to pick up on what the caller said about supporters of the president remaining engaged. Because let's not forget that the reason these Tea Party Republicans are a force in the House today is because they took power in 2010 when a lot of the people who had voted Barack Obama in 2008 were not engaged and did not vote in that midterm election. I do think you have a lot of Democrats now trying to turn that tide in 2014. Structurally it is probably not possible for them to retake the House of Representatives. But I do think that will be our sort of barometer of whether these Obama supporters are still engaged in this fight and whether they are, as the caller says, pushing back.
REHMAll right. To Camp Hill, Pa. Hi there, Maria.
MARIAI just wanted to mention that I am a Latina woman and I do believe that a lot of these anti-Obama campaigns and his health care issues are simply about racism. But the other thing I wanted to mention was that Congress has the best health insurance of all of us. They have Cadillac insurance. I have a sister who is 56 who doesn't have insurance, her job doesn't offer it. So she winds up in the emergency room as seldom as she can because she's fearful that she will get billed, and never goes to the doctor. Just simply doesn't go because she can't afford it.
MARIAMy brother, 12 years ago, took his life because he didn't have medical insurance and he would wind up at the emergency room. They would send him back home and he wound up dying. I think that every American, every person that works in this country deserves health insurance, every one that works. It's the least that we can do if we're a number one country. We say we're the best in the world. How can we be the best and not offer health insurance to every individual...
REHMMaria, I'm so sorry about your brother. That's a terrible story, but Norm, it's the basis of this whole discussion.
ORNSTEINIt is and the fact is that if you look at the structure of the Affordable Care Act, practically speaking, the only real way that you can ensure everybody is to have an individual mandate and an expanded risk pool so that you can also include those who have preexisting conditions.
ORNSTEINAnd you can do it through a single-payer system or you can do it through a marketplace with private insurers. That's what the Affordable Care Act is all about. Members of congress and their staffs have gotten the same insurance basically that all federal employees do. It's been on an exchange which has been the model for this, the federal employees' health exchange. Senator Grassley very capriciously included an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that pushed congressional employees onto the exchanges. And now there's a massive effort to take away their employer-provided subsidy. So they wouldn't be treated the same as everybody else. They'd be treated worse than people who work for large employers.
REHMNorman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. Short break here. More of your calls, your emails when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back, as we continue to talk about the government shut down, the hopes for a quick turnaround, but not in many people's minds. Norm Ornstein is saying he is concerned this may go on until the 17th of October when U.S. bills become due. Here's an email from Brian, who's a professor of justice law and society, here in Washington, D.C. He says, "How long do you suppose Wall Street will be willing to put up with GOP maneuvers that harm the economy and corporate profits?" Norm?
ORNSTEINThe last time we had a confrontation over the debt limit in 2011, the business community in Wall Street were barely present. They wrote some letters. They said, gee, this is not a great thing to do, but they really didn't intervene. This time I suspect we're going to see a more aggressive approach. Although, yesterday, oddly enough, the market was up. And I think it was because Goldman Sachs had said that a shutdown made it less likely that there would be a default. Now we may get a different reaction.
ORNSTEINBut I think it's also important to keep in mind, Diane, that the Tea Party Republicans have disdain for Wall Street. These are Main Street people. The members who were there in 2008 voted against the bailout, even though it came from President George W. Bush and was supported by their own leaders and presidential candidates. And big business doesn't have the clout with these people. It was, you know, completely absent in 2011. If it's active now it's not clear that that'll matter. It's going to be whether the small business people and average constituents who are going to start to get affected by the shut down, go to their members and say enough is enough.
REHMAll right. To Justin, in Charlotte, N.C. Go right ahead. You're on the air.
JUSTINHi, Diane. I am a longtime listener, but a first-time caller. And I'll give you a little perspective on where I’m coming from, briefly.
JUSTINI'm an Independent voter. I'm a moderate. I tend to lean right on fiscal and military issues and less on social issues. That's just kind of where I stand on this. But I'll tell you what's most troublesome to me about this shut down is the fact that one party is being singled out as to be blamed for this. And that's kind of an issue for me because I think what we have here is a classic example of how government is not functioning appropriately. It's not the Republicans, it's not the Democrats, because I could point out issues on both sides of the Parties and how we got to this mess right now.
JUSTINThe other thing is, that I want to clarify here, is the United States needed healthcare reform. The problem is we went about it the wrong way and we implemented the wrong law. So that law being implemented, is, you know, it is the law of the land at this point, however, there are much better ways of looking at this and dealing with the problem (unintelligible)…
REHMAll right. Norm, let's look at both parts of his comment. He feels that this law did not come about in quite the right way, that there could have been better compromise, both parties are at fault.
ORNSTEINI certainly agree that we could have found a better way to do healthcare reform in a bipartisan fashion. And there were improvements to the law. And I wish, not just with the passage of the law, which ended up going down that path because one party decided it didn't want to cooperate, it didn't want to get involved in the process. I wish in the years since, with three years, that we had had some adjustments made before we actually began the implementation. By the way, every major law, including the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit -- passed during the Bush years -- in its first six months or a year goes through a major shakedown with a lot of disruptions.
ORNSTEINBut in the larger sense, Diane, I have to disagree with Justin. There may be no angels here. And both parties have plenty of reasons to be a little bit ashamed of what they've done. But in this case, this is not everybody's at fault. It's not, as we saw in an editorial in the Washington Post a few days ago, why don't they just compromise? Or, as I saw on an email from one of the people that fixed the debt the other day, they haven't compromised. Compromise is where both sides gives something.
ORNSTEINIf what you're saying is, I'll shut down the government or I'll bring about default -- something that's everybody's fundamental responsibility -- unless you defund the law that has been enacted, and you say to the other side, compromise, that's like saying, I'll shoot your children unless you give me all your money. And if you don't give me all your money, you're not compromising, so I'm justified to shoot your children.
REHMWhat about Republican efforts, at this point to re-fund parts of the government, Molly?
BALLWell, that's what we're seeing going on today.
BALLFirst, last night they tried to do this in an expedited manner and that failed, but because there wasn't Democratic support for it. They would have needed two-thirds. Today they're going to go about it, I believe, through the regular process and those may indeed pass, but the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House have taken a very hard line that they will not go any further. As Norm was saying, they feel they have already given, they have already compromised.
BALLAnd, you know, if the healthcare law had not been brought into this discussion, the Republicans would have had a chance to declare victory here. The numbers, the government funding levels that are in the Senate-passed and White House-approved continuing resolution, are the numbers that the House wanted. They are the post-sequestration numbers that cut quite a lot of spending. So there are many within the Republican Party who feel like they missed a chance to declare victory and move on from this.
BALLSo to the caller's point that only one party is being blamed, I don't think we're blaming the Republican Party. I think the blame is on a small faction of the Republican Party, and a lot of it is coming from within the Republican Party, a lot of Republicans saying that this faction is the problem.
REHMAll right. Here's an email about the Tea Party. Norm, he wants to know if you know of any politicians courageous enough to say, yes, I'm a member of the Tea Party or if they all hide behind five-minute answers to yes or no questions. Congressman Burgess did not answer my question.
ORNSTEINThere are a lot of people who are quite proud to identify with the Tea Party and many of them got elected on the backs of the Tea Party. Those are districts that started with a kind of Tea Party presence in 2008 or 2010, especially in 2010, that continued in 2012. But you certainly have others who would prefer to simply call themselves conservatives. And let's face it, one of the reasons is that if you look at broader public opinion, the term Tea Party is not terribly popular in that broader electorate, including among those Republicans who don't identify with the Tea Party.
REHMLet's go to Valerie, in Charlotte, N.C. You're on the air.
VALERIEDiane, thank you so much for taking my call.
VALERIEI just have two comments. My husband and I are currently self-employed and so we currently pay $775 per month for health insurance. So for the National Healthcare Plan to be in place we are so ecstatic about it because we can now look at competitive pricing because of my breast cancer. Second comment I would like to make is that due to the Republicans and the Tea Party, they have hijacked this country, and it's a tragedy -- due to gerrymandering. And we the people need to do something about that so the next coming election we need to make sure we put in place people who reflect our views and not due to gerrymandering.
REHMNorm, that's going to be pretty difficult, isn't it?
ORNSTEINIt's going to be very difficult. The Democrats would need to gain 17 seats net in 2014 to win a majority in the House. It's very unusual for a party that holds the presidency in a midterm election to gain seats. We've only seen one example in history in a midterm. That was in 1998 with Bill Clinton. But 17 seats, at a time when well over 90 percent of the seats held by Republicans in the House were carried by Mitt Romney. And that's not a high standard, you know, you're not talking about a landslide where a presidential candidate won because of a big tie. So those seats, by definition, are going to be very difficult to switch.
REHMBut is she right about the gerrymandering?
ORNSTEINShe's right. Certainly the gerrymandering plays a huge role in this, but it's not the only thing, Diane. People have sorted themselves out geographically in this country, living with like-minded people. And what we see is not just gerrymandering, it's districts that are homogenous. They don't have other kinds of people. There is a kind of echo-chamber quality to what's going on there now. They hear what they want to hear. They get their information, constituents and the members, from the same talk radio, cable television, social media networks.
ORNSTEINAnd they get reinforced in these beliefs. And that's one of the things that's going to keep this shut down going longer because what they're going to hear is, hey, no problem at all. And people have been looking in the last day, monitoring some of the conservative talk radio and cable television, it's like the shut down hasn't taken place. So it's a very different phenomenon.
REHMIs it true, Molly, that if Majority Leader Boehner had allowed a clean vote that this government shutdown would not have taken place?
BALLI believe that to be the case, although with the caveat that it is very difficult to get accurate whip counts in the House of Representatives among the Republicans these days because Speaker Boehner has so little control over his caucus. You know, there was an analysis done a few months back in the Washington Post, looking at the Republicans and how they voted on a certain key votes. And only 20 percent of them are reliably loyal to John Boehner, the rest sort of follow their fancy or follow where they believe that their constituents are.
BALLBut, yes, the conventional wisdom is that if that clean continuing resolution had come to the floor it would get Democratic votes. The Democrats have said they would support it -- what the Senate has passed. And it would get enough Republican votes because it only takes 17 more Republicans plus the Democrats to get it over the line.
REHMJanice writes, "I find it interesting the FAA is considered necessary for safety reasons so people can keep flying, clearly upper-middleclass people. However WIC, which make is possible for women and young children to eat nutritious food is not considered necessary for safety. But, of course, this serves poor people.
ORNSTEINThere's a good point to that and there are going to be some other areas. Head Start will gradually begin to lose some of its ability to take in kids. And that's going to be a challenge for working parents, as well as, of course, for the fabric of society. I'll tell you one area that's really troublesome to me, the Centers for Disease Control has a major flu shot program, of course.
ORNSTEINThey have to shut it down now, right at the time when we start the flu season. And if this shut down goes on for any length of time, one thing is certain, lots of people who would have gotten flu shots will not get them, some will contract the flu and, heaven forbid, some may die.
REHMExplain the debate over Congressional staffers being exempted from the Affordable Care Act, Molly.
BALLWell, this is another one of the changes to Obamacare that the Republicans have tried to enact as part of their proposal to keep the government funded. This was the sort of last minute, second-to-last offer that the House made before the government shut down on Monday night. There was an amendment intended to be sort of a poison pill amendment in the Healthcare Bill that forced members of Congress and their staffs to go on the Obamacare Exchanges, rather than getting Healthcare through their employers like everybody else who gets healthcare through their employer.
BALLA lot of the sort of ethos behind the Affordable Healthcare Act was to try to disrupt people's healthcare as little as possible, who already got health insurance. So they tried to leave in place the employer funded health insurance system as much as possible, including for Congress, which is an employer, which gives its employees healthcare like other large employers. So the idea was, as Norm said before, to force these members of Congress and their staffs to actually -- into a worse situation to not have their employers fund their healthcare or to provide it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We had this business about the FAA. Why isn't the FAA shut down so that everybody who wants to fly feels the affect of a government shutdown, Norm?
ORNSTEINThe president and executive agencies, in their web of rules that surround this, when you get a shut down have in the law some discretion to determine what are essential elements and what are not essential elements. There's some slack here. We saw this applied during the shutdown in '95, '96. By the way, at that point it was a much smaller shut down. Seven of the 12 appropriations bills affecting agencies had already been enacted into law.
REHMOh, I see. I see.
ORNSTEINThis time zero have so it's much larger. Now, you can make a case that it's not just commercial airlines, but other planes that fly. A lot of it is absolutely essential to American commerce. And if you shut down the FAA you completely shut down the aviation system, flights from abroad, flights here. That would be a huge shock to the American economy. And if you furlough some of them, you're creating a safety situation. But it's absolutely right that the people who fly are the more affluent among us.
REHMAre conservatives achieving a goal of shutting down some agencies, perhaps even permanently, and achieving their goal of smaller government?
ORNSTEINWell, let me answer that this way, Diane. We're focusing on the shutdown, which is a terrible thing, and then we may focus on the default. But the sequester -- and Molly talked earlier about how -- and it's absolutely the case -- Republicans have achieved major goals by dramatically cutting back what we call discretionary spending. But they're starting to eat our seed corn and hollow out our government. A lot of this is having terrible, pernicious affects.
ORNSTEINI did a program a week ago with Francis Collins, the head of NIH. And, you know, he's saying that people who are coming in for experimental trials with terrible diseases are going to be blocked now. But 640 grants that were in the top 17 percent, which means they had strong potential for being breakthroughs in cancer, Alzheimer's or whatever, can't be funded because of the sequester right now. Scientists are leaving the country or leaving the profession because they can't get grants. That's one small area.
ORNSTEINYou look at food safety, you look at Homeland Security, you look at some of the National Defense, the FBI, because of the sequester, has to turn resources away from dealing with white-collar crime and other kinds of crimes in the United States.
REHMSo what you're saying is…
ORNSTEINIt's insane, is what I'm saying, Diane.
REHMIt's insane and it may last longer than anyone would like to see. Norman Ornstein, he's resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Co-author of a new and expanded paperback, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." Molly Ball is staff writer for The Atlantic. Earlier you heard from Congressman Michael Burgess, Republican of Texas, representing their 26th District. Thank you so much for joining us.
ORNSTEINThank you, Diane. What a pleasure.
BALLThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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