The XX Factor

Government Shutdown Over Culture War

Jessica , I agree with you that it’s devastating that Republicans are willing to shut down the federal government over subsidies for contraception and over regulations that minimize pollution. All of which makes me think that it’s time to reconsider calling this battle a “budget showdown.” In one sense, it’s easier to do so, since the official battle is over approving a final budget to avoid a government shutdown. But this fight isn’t about the budget. It’s about culture war, and the battleground is the budget.

The numbers tell the story. Last year,  the government spent $3.83 trillion , and the deficit was $1.27 trillion. The number being fought over in this year’s budget is $12 billion, which is tiny compared to the government’s overall expenditures. This is like divorcing your spouse because the family budget didn’t account for the stuff in the couch cushions.  Pulling out my handy calculator, I see that this fight is literally over 0.3 percent of the budget. Yes, three-tenths of a percent. And,  as I noted in a recent article , the family-planning portion of this money actually saves money. Environmental regulation has got to be up there in the penny-saved department, as well. The health and environmental costs of pollution are so great that I can’t imagine that it does anything but cost us money down the road to roll back regulation.

Clearly, the government shut down is looming not over money, but over culture-war grievances. When Reid characterizes this as an ideological fight over reproductive rights and the enviroment, I think the statistical facts back up his assertion. The objections to family-planning subsidies and enviromental regulation have nothing to do with money, and are instead about punching feminists and tree-hugging hippies in the nose.  Additionally, right-wing media has been bellyaching for months now about how government employees are spoiled brats with the drawing of paychecks to do work, and so I think we can add the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who will be facing financial devastation if a shutdown happens on the list of people who are getting a punch in the nose from the culture warriors using the budget to work out their grievances.