The federal government has shut down. Nearly everyone knows this by now, but a large portion of the first day has been an exercise in highlighting all the (non-political) consequences. Seemingly every segment has inevitably mentioned that the national parks are closed, and of course approximately 800,000 federal workers are being told to stay home. That still leaves 1.5 million “essential” employees on the job, some vague number of which won’t be paid in the interim. While a government shutdown only concerns the discretionary spending part of the federal budget, that portion is incredibly vast in scope for the number of things it funds — too many, really, to chronicle here.
Suffice it to write that the impact of a shutdown ranges from the inconvenient to the perniciously harmful. Twitter especially seemed very, very upset over the National Zoo’s “Panda Cam” being turned off, while at the same time some 400 children in Florida couldn’t attend their Head Start program today.
Yet the most enraging, horrid to read, impact I’ve seen merited half of a paragraph in the middle of this Wall Street Journal rundown with the sub-heading “Closure Hits Federal Employees and Tourist Spots, but a Lingering Impasse Would Reach Wider.”
I’ll just go ahead and quote the whole two sentences:
At the NIH, Director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center for clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.
Brad Plummer has slightly more, just some context really, but not enough. NIH stands for National Institutes of Health. The patients who enter into these clinical trials often do so because traditional treatments have not helped and no other alternative exists. As Aaron Carroll writes, these folks “are usually the people with the worst disease, who don’t have much hope anywhere else.” When Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner claims he and colleagues are fighting to win in this shutdown in order to truly do “something for our kids and our grandkids,” apparently those children turned away are not included.
Those two sentences, right now, are all I can think of when I remember to this morning, watching pundits on TV stress how irresponsible “both sides of the aisle” are for arriving at this impasse. This is simply not true. Only one party has attached unrelated, major, policy concessions at every step to fund the government for a mere six weeks. Only one half of one-third of the federal government refuses to bring to the floor a clean bill with funding at a level that would normally be considered a huge win for conservatives.
The cause of this shutdown is shamefully clear. When faced with two choices, on whether to keep the government open or not, Republicans in the House of Representatives chose the latter. They could not — would not — vote for a funding bill that did not deny millions of Americans health insurance next year by repealing, defunding, or delaying the Affordable Care Act. The shutdown will not affect the law, by the way, as it is almost entirely funded by mandatory spending. Yet Republicans in the House could not let another symbolic effort to derail the health care reform law slip away. That’s it. That’s why 30 children, “most of them cancer patients,” are being turned away from what could be their last chance at a successful treatment.