President Barack Obama sharply rebuked congressional Republicans for shutting down the government over their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and declared that Congress’ crisis-to-crisis style of government is “not worthy of this country,” during a Tuesday afternoon address from the White House Rose Garden.
Speaking roughly 13 hours after the federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years, the president made it clear that he views only one party as responsible for the standoff.
“This Republican shutdown did not have to happen. But I want every American to understand why it did happen,” President Obama said. “Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act.”
“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,” the president continued. “In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”
The president went on to once again make the case for his health care reform law, the implementation of which ramped up on Tuesday when its online exchanges opened for business. But he repeatedly returned his focus to Republicans’ dogmatic opposition to the law, deploying sharp partisan rhetoric not used since his re-election campaign.
“This shutdown is not about deficits. It’s not about budgets. This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don’t have it. It’s all about rolling back the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said.
“This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican Party stands for these days,” he added. “I know it’s strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda, but that apparently is what it is.” The president also noted the irony that, despite the GOP’s repeated efforts to defund the law, its implementation is not affected by the government shutdown.
“I want to underscore the fact that Congress doesn’t just have to end this shutdown and reopen the government; Congress generally has to stop governing by crisis,” Obama stressed near the end of his remarks. “They have to break this habit. It is a drag on the economy. It is not worthy of this country.”
Earlier in the day, the president sent a two-page letter to federal employees that echoed much of his rhetoric in the Rose Garden. “Thank you for the work you do every day,” President Obama wrote, “work that is vitally important to our national security and to American families’ economic security.”
“You do all this in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag,” he added.
“This shutdown was completely preventable. It should not have happened,” the letter continued. “And the House of Representatives can end it as soon as it follows the Senate’s lead, and funds your work in the United States Government without trying to attach highly controversial and partisan measures in the process.”
Despite the president’s insistence, however, there is no indication that the shutdown will end any time soon. On Tuesday morning, the Senate once again rejected a House proposal to fund the government while blocking the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, essentially leaving Congress back at square one. The vote was the latest in a long line of indications that the Democratic majority in the Senate will not bend to Republican demands on health care, leaving the onus on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to plot a new path forward.
There is reason to believe that, in addition to the economic and social toll that a shutdown will take on the country, it could come with a high political price for Boehner’s party. A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday morning suggested that an overwhelming majority of American voters disapprove of congressional Republicans’ attempt to tie defunding the health care law to keeping the government open.
Full video of President Obama’s remarks can be seen below:
Photo: President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (AFP/Saul Loeb)