In the wake of a Department of Defense report that the shutdown would delay benefit payments to the families of those with loved ones killed in combat, the House voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to assure that those benefits would go out as planned. The vote revealed two things about the current stalemate: One, that bad headlines continue to be the motivator to action, and, two, that trying to fund the government in tiny parts will always mean something goes unnoticed until it becomes a problem.
"Anytime they see a bad headline, they're going to bring a bill to the floor to make it go away," Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York told the Huffington Post last week. So far, that formula has proven prophetic. The vote on troops' death benefits is only the latest piecemeal funding bill introduced by House Republicans in the wake of the government shutdown. Each of the other resolutions the House has introduced (and passed) can be traced back to negative press.
Using The New York Times' excellent diagram of the evolution of funding bills, here's how each discrete funding bill has followed from some negative story. (Some of the measures passed earlier in the shutdown likely stemmed from a general sympathy for the affected group — like veterans or the National Guard. Funding for Washington, D.C., likely arose following concerns of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton more than any news story.)
|Issue||News article||Article date||House passage|
|National Institutes of Health||"The Saddest Paragraph You'll Read About the Government Shutdown Today"||October 1||October 2|
|National Parks Service||"Veterans Occupy World War II Memorial Closed Because of Shutdown" (among others)||October 1||October 2|
|Veterans benefits||"VA says veterans' benefits would stop in long shutdown" (among others)||September 28||October 3|
|National Guard||"Colorado Will Pay National Guard For Flood Relief Efforts During Government Shutdown" (among others)||October 1||October 3|
|FEMA||"Tropical Storm Karen forms between Cuba, Mexico" (among others)||October 3||October 4|
|Women, Infants, and Children||"Shutdown puts WIC food program for vulnerable mothers at risk"||October 2||October 4|
|Food and Drug Administration||"Government shutdown stresses food inspections" (among others)||October 2||October 7|
|Death benefits||"Military death benefits suspended amid shutdown" (among others)||October 8||October 9|
While the Republican House argues that the Senate's refusal to pass these bills suggests that the Democrats that control that body are somehow rejecting the urgency of, say, caring for our veterans, the obvious opportunism on display actually undermines that position. The easiest way to prevent legitimately terrible effects of a shutdown — like the grief-stricken military mothers forced to wait for benefits payments — is to fund the whole government.
There will be more terrible effects of the shutdown that are just now becoming apparent. All of them were preventable with a vote to fund the entire government at some point prior to midnight on October 1.