Strike?

I usually read political blogs.  This morning I started to, and just couldn’t.

Reasoned political analysis can fail in the face of stomach-churning fear.  I no longer feel the same shortness of breath, back of neck tightness stress about women’s reproductive rights, even though I fight for them, because they no longer affect me personally.  I can think and discuss them clearly.

The looming government shutdown, on the other hand, has me breaking out in cold sweats.

We have been through this before, over the 1995 and 1996 winter.  I had to go to the director of my eldest son’s preschool and ask for forbearance on the tuition payments.  Fortunately, we had a very generous landlady who gave us the grace we needed to get past the 28 days (five in November 1995, 23 from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996) that we had no income.  Not fun.  Neither was the period that followed, which involved untangling finances.  Things worked out okay, after a little while.  Federal employees were even given back pay to cover the time they were forcibly off work.

This time, though, we have more people to care for.  Teenagers are more expensive that toddlers, by a long shot.  (In food alone, if nothing else.)  We have doctor’s and dentist’s and orthodontist bills to take care of, and there are college application fees coming up.  Our housing expenses go not to an understanding woman, but to a large impersonal corporation that holds our mortgage and that quite frankly can’t give a damn.  (We would take money out of our retirement fund to tide us over, except that that takes time and the people who would process it would be off work themselves.) Federal employees have been warned that they are unlikely to be reimbursed for their forced time off.  We’ll get by, I think, but it is going to be really stressful.

I am sure there are others less fortunate than us for whom a shutdown will be an unmitigated disaster.  Not to mention all the secondary impacts, on restaurants where workers eat lunch, for example, or the gas stations affected by losing income that people would pay for gas to get to work.  According to the head of the Congressional Budget Office, a shutdown would be damaging to the nation’s still fragile economy.

All of this over the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act makes economic sense.  According to the CBO, the act will save over $140 billion dollars over ten years, and repeal will only increase the deficit.  Remember the deficit? The one that all those Tea Partiers claim to care about? Clearly, scuttling Obama’s signature achievement takes a backseat to reasonable fiscal policy.

I’m not an unbiased observer in all this.  I have dogs in both sides of this hunt.

Everyday at work, I talk to people who hate the ACA.  Obamacare will ruin the nation.  Obamacare will give healthcare to illegal immigrants (it won’t).  People should not be forced to have health insurance, even though anyone who drives a car in any state in this country has to have car insurance.  People who have health insurance through their employers and who really don’t give a damn about those who don’t, those irresponsible people who did not get a job with an employer who provides benefits.  Employers who are taking or threatening cuts in benefits or hours, blaming Obamacare, even though small employers are exempt, and the Act does nothing to effect benefits already offered through employers.  (The mandate for large employers to offer insurance has been pushed back to 2015, anyway.) It gets wearying, sometimes, all of the misinformation and just plain mean-spiritedness out there.  That people are willing to oppose something in their long-term best economic interest out of ignorance and political spite undermines my faith in the American public.*

But on the other side, there are those other calls.  The calls to people who have been without insurance for two years because they have been desperately looking for work and up to now Medi-cal (California’s Medicaid program)  was assets based, meaning that since they owned a home they were not eligible. People who have paid exorbitant premiums because they have a pre-existing condition, if they could get coverage at all.  People who have insurance, but who are worried about their cousin who has only been able to find part-time jobs with no benefits, or their kid who has just turned twenty-seven and can’t be on their plan any more.  People deciding between food and medicine.

And those second calls outnumber the first, by a lot.  People need what this program offers.  Fortunately, I’m in a state where for the most part what the program will do is more important than the political forces behind it. (Except for Orange County, generally.  I hate calling down there.)

I believe in the Affordable Care Act.  I believe it makes sense in both economic and humanitarian terms. I believe it will make the country stronger, that its effect will spread farther than many people think of: not only will there be fewer people showing up in emergency rooms with preventable diseases, and more people whose cancer gets diagnosed at Stage One, when it is easier and cheaper to treat, than at Stage Four, but there will be more workers who get flu shots, meaning fewer days lost to illness.  Healthier workers are more productive workers.  More productive workers make the economy — and the country — stronger.

And so I take a deep breath.  I write President Obama, my Senators, and my Representative to do what they can to keep the Act intact.  And I mentally prepare for the worst.

I’ve never been in a union, but I wonder if this is what it feels like to prepare to strike.  Especially when the strike is in support of a different group of people.

Whatever.  Bring it on.  We’ll fight this one as long as we can.

*Every once in while you get the other side of the coin: people who hate Obamacare because we need to scratch the whole system and go to single-payer.  Those always make me smile.

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