Federal Government Shutdown: America’s Moment of Truth


If ever the American people needed a strong president willing to stand for what is reasonable and right, that time is now.

In 2008 and 2012, our rallying cry was “Barack Obama, we have your back.” Today, at this moment of truth for our country, we can thank God that President Obama has the strong backbone that we need.

In the Congress, it is our job to find common ground. For Democrats, however, we will not negotiate with hostage takers.

The lines of battle have been sharply drawn.

House Republicans have forced the federal government to shut down. They have aided and abetted a small faction of Tea Party extremists in their effort to take the country hostage by refusing to pass legislation to fund the government.

If we Democrats do not bend to their demands, some Republicans declare, they will force our nation to default on her “full faith and credit” for the first time in our history.

These forces of reaction would do well to take heed. This is not the first time that we have had this fight, but this time, neither the President nor congressional Democrats will bend.

America’s majority has elected a President and congressional allies who will stand up for progressive reform. We will stand firm because it is the right thing to do – and because we understand that far too much is at stake for the Americans we serve.

Giving in to the Tea Party’s obsession with defunding the Affordable Care Act would deny access to healthcare for millions of Americans.

The federal law now called Obamacare is not a proposal to be renegotiated. It is the law of the land – passed by the Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court.

The act does provide significant financial assistance to the working poor. However, of the 28 million Americans who now are able to gain access to insurance, 8 million earn well above the poverty level.

Two-thirds of these uninsured Americans have full-time jobs – and another 16 percent are working part-time. The Affordable Care Act will give these working, middle class families access to health care that the private sector refused to give them before passage of the law.

It would be morally reprehensible to now abandon the 17 million children who no longer are denied coverage because they have pre-existing conditions, or the 3 million young adults who already have gained access to health coverage by remaining on their parents’ insurance.

How could we betray the more than 5 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare who have saved more than $3.1 billion on prescription drugs because of the Affordable Care Act?

We could not, and we won’t. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared, “We are locked in tight on Obamacare.”

If House Speaker Boehner would allow an unencumbered vote on federal funding, there are now enough House Republicans who have indicated they would support a bill to reopen the government to assure a bipartisan majority.

America, however, is being harmed by gridlock within the House Republican Conference.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are not working and facing severe hardships. Critical medical research is not being performed. Women, infants and children are being threatened.

The nation’s welfare and security are weakened – all because House Republicans will not allow us to proceed (and negotiate) in what is called “regular order.”

The president and congressional Democrats have all declared publicly that we are prepared to negotiate on the pressing budgetary issues of our time. However, we will not negotiate with a fiscal gun pointed at our heads.

To do so would be wrong – and it also would set the nation up for further socially devastating hostage demands on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

That, I am convinced, is the ultimate objective of this Tea Party shutdown.

To be fair, Boehner and a number of mainstream Republicans have been reported as assuring the nation that they will not allow a default that would breach America’s full faith and credit. Yet, default is exactly what the Tea Party faction has been threatening.

Wall Street, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even Fox News understand that any failure by our government to pay our bills as they become due would inflict devastating and, to some extent, irreversible harm upon all Americans.

This is why the political debate has now gone beyond the current federal shutdown. We are sharply focused upon raising the debt limit – the statutory limit upon federal borrowing.

The financial meltdown and Bush recession triggered a terrible storm for our nation. Any breach in America’s full faith and credit would bring down a hurricane upon us all.

At this moment of truth for our nation, protecting our nation from that hurricane is our constitutional duty. For President Obama, House Speaker Boehner and the Congress as a whole, fulfilling that duty will require both wisdom and a strong backbone.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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Federal Government Shutdown: America's Moment of Truth

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