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‘Starving the beast’ - Tea Party Republicans and the shutdown of government

Commentary by Masao Suzuki |
October 2, 2013
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San José, CA - At midnight on Oct. 1, the federal government began a partial shutdown. Later that morning, hundreds of thousands of federal workers showed up to wind up work - putting up closed signs at national parks and monuments across the country and updating web pages saying that many functions were no longer available. Then they went home for an indefinite furlough without pay.

Behind the partial shutdown of the federal government was the leadership of the House Republicans, who followed the lead of their right-wing Tea Party congress people. They needed to pass a bill to continue funding the government, since no budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year, which began Oct. 1, had passed. Instead, the House Republicans insisted on using the threat of a government shutdown to get what they wanted, which was to derail the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, even though the Senate, the president and the Supreme Court were against them.

The House Republicans’ willingness to seemingly burn down their own house to rid it of what they saw as vermin (Obamacare), is not only extremism, but also comes from their right-wing view of the government. It was under the Reagan presidency in the 1980s that the term “Starving the beast” arose, as right-wingers targeted the federal government as a “beast” for its social-welfare functions, wanting to pare down the role of the government to basically prisons to protect property rights of the rich and the military to maintain the empire.

Looking at a list of how agencies are being hit by the partial government shutdown, it is clear that many of the programs that the right wing hates will be hardest hit. Among the departments with the highest percentage of furloughed workers are the Department of Education (95%), Housing and Urban Development or HUD (95%), the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA (90%), and the Department of Labor (80%).

On the other hand, the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, has only 15% furloughs, so one can expect the record deportations to continue. The Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, also has only a 15% furlough, so no let-up in spying and harassments of Muslim Americans, Arab Americans and anti-war and international solidarity activists is in sight.

While the House Republicans say that they are targeting Obamacare, by and large the rollout of the Affordable Care Act set for October 1 was unaffected. While there were long waits for web sites to load and phones to get answered, this was largely because nearly 3 million people flocked to the U.S. government web site and more went to state web sites such as in California.

In contrast, Senate Democrats and the Obama administration value the role of the government, both to subsidize big corporations (as Obamacare does with big health insurance companies) and to maintain social peace through social welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare. But they also support the military and policing functions of the government, as seen in the Obama administration’s attempt to unleash a military attack on Syria and the FBI coordination of local police efforts to smash the Occupy movements.