A Tea Party sticker.
Some things are inexplicable.
Like baseball. I hadn’t watched or thought about baseball in months. But since moving back to Massachusetts last week after a year in London, I found myself drawn to the shrill baseball talk on Boston sports radio. The callers are often wrong, but never in doubt. The Red Sox are back in the playoffs and there is a lot of yelling about on-base percentages and how nasty a pitcher’s “stuff” is. Driving around in my brother’s piece of shit Honda Civic, I found the banality of the opinions oddly soothing: I am home.
It was also a welcome reprieve from all the talk of the US government shutdown. There is nothing tranquil about Newt Gingrich harrumphing his way through a segment on CNN. Like baseball, the whole thing’s a bit inexplicable. Discussing the shutdown is like trying to explain a pitcher’s balk to someone from the English Midlands: there are lots of fruitless hand gestures and statements prefaced with “It’s a bit weird…”
I’ve been able to cobble together this much: While I was away the great state of Texas has apparently elected a guy named Ted Cruz to the US Senate. Senator Cruz apparently has the Tea Party conch shell and has been stirring up a bunch of trouble on Capitol Hill. He doesn’t like Obamacare. I don’t know the senator, but I suspect he harbours post-apocalyptic fantasies that involve knifefights for canned goods.
In the House, enough Republicans have decided that divebombing the federal government is preferable to actually governing. The implementation of Obamacare is somehow the death of the American Dream, and these Republicans are willing to prove this by shutting down significant portions of the federal government’s operation. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
The term “misguided” comes to mind, as does the word "depressing". Even House Speaker John Boehner has lost his radioactive glow. He looked downright catatonic making proclamations about the Democrats not compromising.
To gain some perspective, I reached out to someone who thinks the shutdown is a welcome wake-up call to the evils of Obamacare. Christine Morabito is the president of the Greater Boston branch of the Tea Party. I spoke to her because I wanted to understand the haywire type of thinking that leads congressmen to shut down major swathes of the world's most powerful government rather than discuss a policy of universal healthcare for its people.
Give Christine this: she answered all of my questions, she was polite, friendly and articulate and we were able to make it through the interview without any mention of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, his middle name or death panels, so maybe there’s hope for the country after all.
VICE: Are you pleased with the shutdown?
Christine Morabito: I don’t think anyone wanted a shutdown, but it has given us the opportunity to make people aware that there’s a huge difference between essential and nonessential spending. I think the Republicans are trying to, you know, piecemeal fund things in the government. Congress has the power to do that, but even their efforts to fund certain things are being thwarted. It’s making me wonder if maybe the liberals are trying to bring on as much hurt and inconvenience for people as they can so they can use that to blame Republicans. It’s a big blame game.
Republicans, some of whom are backed by Tea Party organisations, are the ones who inserted the poison pill that brought on the shutdown, not the Democrats. Why should Democrats bother coming to the table when this is a problem manufactured by a group of Republicans?
Well, if it was only a select few Republicans, I don’t think the shutdown would have happened. It takes a few more than a couple of Republicans. It’s interesting how the Tea Party is portrayed; one minute we're dead and the next minute we’re responsible for every scourge of mankind. You know, it seems like you can’t have it both ways.
But would you agree with the assessment that Republicans, particularly those who are placating organisations like the Tea Party, are the ones who brought this situation to a head?
I think there’s some truth to that. I think what the Tea Party has done has given fiscal conservative Republicans the OK to do what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place. It’s because of the Tea Party that we’re having these discussions about government overreach and overspending. These were things that maybe a few Republicans were talking about before, but they never really had the backing of the people. I don’t think most people knew what was going on. The Tea Party has been able to educate people and the public about how we’re using and wasting our tax dollars. I think these Republicans who wanted to stand up for the taxpayers now feel empowered.
Hasn’t this only succeeded in fracturing the GOP? You have some Republican lawmakers who are saying it’s time to move on. Has it not just splintered the Republican party?
We go through that every time something like this comes up. Most Americans really want these people to stand strong and fight for the taxpayer.
Wasn't the time for this kind of clashing before the bill turned into a law? The Supreme Court said it was constitutional. Hasn't the time to change the substance and implementation of Obamacare passed?
Well, we have never given up on fighting Obamacare. As Nancy Pelosi said, we’d have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. What’s in it is not good. It’s not good for jobs. Workers are getting their hours cut. People are losing their insurance, which is something that’s not supposed to happen. Companies are cutting back on how many people they hire. None of that is good for the economy.
So what would you do with the 48 million uninsured Americans?
We could have dealt with uninsured Americans without having the government take control of the entire healthcare system. It’s become very clear, within a few days of Obamacare going online, that they can’t even run a website. And they want to run one sixth of the American economy? Lots of union members are hourly workers, so they see how this is going to affect them. It’s a disaster.
Getting back to the tens of millions of uninsured, how specifically do we deal with that?
You know, I’m not a healthcare expert – I don’t have the answers to that. There have been proposals by the Republicans to deal with the uninsured. I really think we could have done it without the government taking over the healthcare system.
The two most recent shutdowns in ‘95 and ‘96 cost the Treasury $1.4 billion over 26 days – about $2.1 billion in today’s dollars. It's also shut down a bunch of services, which means there's going to be a huge backlog of work. If the Tea Party is so concerned about belt tightening and governmental efficiency, this whole thing would seem to be counterproductive; it’s costing the Treasury money and it’s making the government less efficient because of the backlog of work. What would you say to that?
I would say you have to look at the big picture. This is bigger than just a few days of the government being shut down. I think if we allow Obamacare to go forward it will destroy our American healthcare system as we know it. We need to talk about the spending. We’re $17 trillion in debt and we need to talk about that. In a way, this brings to light all the nonessential things the government does. My heart goes out to the people who are suffering, who aren’t getting paid right now, but we really need to... you know, in our own homes, when we look at budgeting issues, we look at things we could do without. And I think we need to do that as a country as well.
We’ve had a version of universal healthcare here in Massachusetts since 2006. We’re going on eight years and it has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured here in our state and hasn’t submarined the state’s economy. What do you make of that?
That’s a different issue, because that was something that was passed in our state. If every state looks at their healthcare situation and decides to impose something like we have here in Massachusetts, that’s up to the states to do that. But for the federal government to think they can run the healthcare of everybody across the whole country is something that the Tea Party is really against. These things need to be handled at the most local level they can. Once centralised government comes in, everyone gets treated as a one-size fits all situation and that’s not good enough for anybody.
What do you make of the fact that few dozen members of Congress are willing to blow things up rather than govern? Is it not an irresponsible dereliction of leadership to say, "Screw it, we’re shutting it down."
We wouldn’t be having the discussion if the Senate had passed the budget like they were supposed to instead of having these continuing resolutions that mean we have to repeat this fight every few months. I think if they were doing their job to begin with, we wouldn’t be going through this right now.
Do you think insurance companies should be able to exclude people with pre-existing conditions?
That’s a really tough question. I think there should be some place for somebody to go with pre-existing conditions, but I don’t think that’s the government’s job to tell a private organisation who they have to insure and who they shouldn’t. I don’t think that’s the government’s role.
Doesn’t it become a moral issue though at some point?
But health insurance companies, if left to their own devices, are there to make money, right? Not to ponder the ethics or morality of what they’re doing.
Well, you know, now we get into this problem with Obamacare. Now that there’s no restriction on pre-existing conditions, young people are going to make the decision that it’s cheaper for them not to buy insurance, to pay the fine. Because they know if they ever get sick, they just have to sign up for insurance and there'll be no penalty. So, you know, I think you have to look at the unintended consequences. Again, I absolutely think there needs to be some place for these people to go.
Do you think young people should be able to stay on their parents’ healthcare until they’re 26?
I don’t have a huge problem with it. At 26, I kind of think you should be paying for your own healthcare, but that’s just my personal opinion.
Do you think companies with 50 or more employees should provide healthcare to their workers?
I don’t think they should be forced to by the federal government, no.
Then how should those folks go about getting health insurance?
Well, the ultimate goal for the Tea Party is to get the employers out of the healthcare business. Employers don’t want to deal with it. If employers go out of the healthcare business, then healthcare would open up to more competition. Then insurance companies competing with each other for the lowest rates and the price of healthcare would come down. The problem is that people don’t know what anything costs. You don’t have the option to shop around and find the best deal for your healthcare.
Thank you, Christine.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @DMacCash
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