On Oct. 1, congressional Republicans allowed the federal government to shut down for the first time in 17 years. It might have been understandable if this occurred due to a disagreement about federal budget issues that were on the table, but that is not the case. Instead, the shutdown has occurred because the far right wing of the Republican Party decided to use the federal spending bill as a vehicle to delay the implementation of Obamacare, a law President Obama signed in 2010.
Even when it became apparent that Democratic senators were not going to be bullied into undermining a healthcare reform law that, as President Obama noted, passed Congress; was signed by the president; upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court; and allowed to stand by American voters; House Republicans decided that their egos were more important than continuing to provide vital services to American citizens.
These actions should make the LGBT community feel uneasy. In this instance, congressional Republicans are using the spending bill to attempt to delay and defund Obamacare, but if they are successful, it may embolden them to use similar mechanisms to reverse or oppose LGBT-rights laws. In the past, Congress has blocked D.C. laws that the LGBT community has supported, such as needle exchange, so what’s to stop them from attempting to undermine marriage equality or continuing to prevent the Employment Non-Discrimination Act from passing.
Many marginalized groups have sought employment with the federal government to escape discrimination in the private sector. According to NPR, the government (local, state, and federal) is the largest employer of African Americans and numerous studies have shown that the majority of the black middle-class work in public sector jobs. The number of Latinos in government has increased by 10.6 percent, despite losses of government jobs by other groups, NPR noted. While federal law does not prevent employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, many in the LGBT community have also sought out federal employment as a refuge from worse discrimination in the private sector.
The poison provisions that House Republicans added to the spending bill that would delay Obamacare and deny contraception to women should also concern the LGBT community because Congress is meddling in people’s personal affairs, which never turns out well for our community. As D.C. residents, we are keenly aware of Congress’ ability to impose its will on American citizens with no regard to those citizens’ rights and views on the matter. Unfortunately, the rest of the country is now getting to see this firsthand, although local residents will still pay a disproportionate price, due to the large number of federal employees in the area and the number of local businesses that depend on tourism, which will take a hit if the federal government remains closed for a prolonged period of time.
Thankfully, local D.C. politicians understand that the decision to keep the government open is not about them, it’s about the residents that they serve. Remaining open also helps the District’s cause for budget autonomy. After all, there is nothing like the city acting independently to illustrate that it can do so. Council member David Grosso should be applauded for pushing for the D.C. government to remain open and for D.C. government employees to be paid as normal with city funds; Mayor Gray should be applauded for acting on the suggestion and classifying all city workers as essential; and Chairman Mendelson should be applauded for circulating legislation among his colleagues to use reserve funds to pay for city operations. The federal government can learn a thing or two from District government leaders in how to put residents first.
President Obama has been shown more disrespect than any president in American history. Congressional Republicans would rather shut down the government than implement an Obamacare plan that most Americans support. Apparently, they will go to great lengths to see the president fail.
What they fail to understand is it is not the president who suffers in the government shutdown. It’s the hardworking government worker who will now be without a paycheck. It’s the family that has planned a vacation to D.C. for a year and now all of the Smithsonian museums and national parks are closed. It’s the senior citizen that depends on nutrition grants and will now need to find another source of food. Average Americans are the ones who suffer and I am fairly confident that average Americans will not forget the actions of House Republicans anytime soon.
Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at twitter @lateefahwms.