by Senator John McCain, R-Arizona
Recently I held town-hall meetings in Phoenix and Tucson, where I heard directly from Arizonans frustrated with Washington’s lack of respect for the impact that the dysfunction in Congress has had on the lives of ordinary people.
I opposed the brinkmanship that led to the government shutdown because it was based on the false promise that we Republicans — who control only the House of Representatives — could somehow force the defunding of “Obamacare.”
Now, I take a backseat to no one in my opposition to Obamacare. I fought it for 25 straight days on the Senate floor in 2009, right up until Christmas Eve, when it passed on a party-line vote. In 2012, I campaigned across America on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare with Mitt Romney as president. Much to my chagrin, and against the wishes of a majority of Arizonans, the people spoke, re-electing President Barack Obama.
So, while I’ve always opposed Obamacare, the assertion that we Republicans could somehow defund it was false. The math is simple: We need 60 Republican votes in the U.S. Senate to defund Obamacare and 67 votes to overcome a certain veto by President Obama. Today, we have only 46 GOP senators. This was a fool’s errand doomed to failure, and I said so from the very beginning.
The resulting 16-day government shutdown wasn’t an academic exercise. It disrupted the everyday lives of thousands of Arizonans in very real and painful ways. In addition to the 11,000 federal employees who were furloughed across Arizona, our businesses and families suffered lost opportunities and forfeited income that the federal government can never pay back.
Our state’s national parks turned away 580,000 visitors along with their $41 million in unspent tourism dollars, according to Interior Department estimates. Businesses in Tusayan — the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon — lost more than $200,000 per day. Some 2,200 employees inside the park — many working minimum-wage food-service and hotel jobs — were laid off and stranded there, and food banks from Phoenix actually had to rush food north to feed them. Colorado River rafting companies that provide visitors with once-in-a-lifetime Grand Canyon experiences were forced to cancel reservations and close early for the season.
Some 2,000 civilian defense contractors were furloughed across our state’s military bases. It was the second furlough this year, as many were forced to take unpaid leave this summer because of budget cuts under sequestration. Luke Air Force Base was forced to cut back the medical services it typically offers servicemen and women, their families and retirees. At Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, A-10 training was stopped for a week.
Indeed, the impact of the shutdown was felt in nearly every corner of Arizona. In the White Mountains, the shutdown put a stop to forestry in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, causing biomass suppliers to lay off at least 70 workers. Unlike federal workers, they didn’t qualify for back pay.
In the southwestern corner of our state, about 3,000 labor visas were delayed for farmers in Yuma and across the border in California, putting $4 billion worth of vegetables at risk of spoiling, according to the Western Growers Association. New business start-ups were delayed as Small Business Administration loan applications came to a halt, and the American dream was held up for many as Arizona ranked fourth nationally in mortgage-processing delays.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jan Brewer had to divert $650,000 from the state’s tight budget to cover federal welfare programs for thousands of low-income families.
All told, the United States threw away $24 billion in economic activity during the shutdown, according to a Moody’s analysis.
While all this pain was inflicted on the American people, the debate in Washington proceeded just as I and others predicted: Obamacare was not defunded. After 16 long days — and facing a historic default on our national debt — an agreement was reached to reopen the government and raise the debt limit, without any changes to Obamacare.
Perversely, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that in the wake of the shutdown drama, Americans’ approval of Obamacare actually increased.
There has been some talk around Washington that another government shutdown is possibly on the horizon. I don’t think so, and I agree with many of my Republican colleagues who recite the old adage: “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”
I will never waiver in my dedication to cutting wasteful government spending or in my opposition to Obamacare, an economic disaster that is already beginning to collapse under its own weight. But shutting down the federal government was a worthless strategy from the start.
For all the rhetoric of fighting the good fight, every punch ended up landing squarely on the people of Arizona and America.