As a possible government shutdown inches closer to reality, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is hoping a last-minute resolution can avert the crisis.
On Sunday night the U.S. House passed legislation that would temporarily fund the government through the middle of December, delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by one year and repeal a tax on medical devices.
By a vote of 54-46, the Senate Monday afternoon stripped out those House conditions. The vote came less than 10 hours before a possible shutdown and with no compromise in sight. Democrats — and a few Republicans — are pressing for the House to approve a straightforward spending bill with no conditions.
Casey said the House passing that legislation is the last chance it has to stop the shutdown. Otherwise the federal government will see its first stoppage since 1996 starting at midnight.
Casey told WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh a Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party is to blame for the current battle.
“Everything changed after the 2010 election where there was almost a government shutdown in the spring of 2011, if you remember that, and then also almost a default on the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011,” Casey said. “That happened because of the people elected in the 2010 election who, I guess, believed that when they are elected that they were elected to stop the president’s program (the Affordable Care Act) at all cost and, it that means shutting the government down, that’s what they want to do.”
According to a national survey conducted in early September by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act while 42 percent approve.
Casey said this fight has a “unique dynamic” with Republicans, independents and Democrats siding to fund the government against a libertarian faction of the Republican Party.
He said the economic effects of a shutdown would be “taking the country in a wrong direction” with about 70,000 federal employees in Pennsylvania alone out of work.
Nationally, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed and only "essential services" would continue. Those essential services include: homeland security, NASA's support of the International Space Station and day-to-day necessities such as weather forecasting, mail delivery, air traffic control and distribution of Social Security and Medicare benefits. Federal courts would also likely stay open for at least two weeks, according to NPR.
Services that would be suspended include: museums, tax audits, loan processing by the Federal Housing Administration and, except in emergencies, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections.
Casey said to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act would be to deny people healthcare.
“Members of Congress who get healthcare, and it’s darn good healthcare, take my word for it, they’re sitting there voting to deny millions of people coverage saying, ‘Just wait a year. That’s not a big deal,” Casey said. “How would the like to wait a year if their family didn’t have healthcare for a year?”
A major piece of the ACA, the insurance exchanges, comes online Tuesday.
Even if a shutdown is averted, another political battle is looming. Congress must raise the federal debt ceiling by Oct. 17 or default on the nation’s debt.
Casey said defaulting on the debt would have much worse economic consequences than a government shutdown.
“Not paying your bills and defaulting in the middle of October is exponentially worse than a shutdown," he said. "If they’re really intent on destroying the economy, which I hope they’re not, they will stay on the course that they’re on. We have to avoid a default at all cost, no matter what it takes.”
Casey said, if it came to it, he would support the president taking “extraordinary” steps to raise the debt ceiling.