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The shutdown, the debt and health care: a primer

WASHINGTON — These are complicated times in the affairs of Washington and the nation, with death stars everywhere and all of them a struggle to comprehend. The partial government shutdown, the debt limit squeeze just around the corner, sequestration, how they fit with the health care law, how they don't — it just goes on.

So we've cooked up some questions about this grim galaxy and taken a stab at answers:

Which is better, "Obamacare" or the Affordable Care Act?

They are the same. Opponents of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul came up with the catchy nickname "Obamacare" and it spread to the point that even Obama uses the term sometimes. The full name of Obama's law is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Indeed, patients have new protections against losing their insurance. But the many questions about how affordable insurance and medical care will turn out to be aren't put to rest by a law's reassuring name.

Why are you calling it Obama's law? Congress passed it.

Transcendent legislation comes to be associated with the president who proposed the idea and fought tooth and nail for it.

What's this got to do with the shutdown?

A: Changes to the health care law were the price set by Republicans, who control the House, of ending the budget impasse and reopening government. They've backed away somewhat on that, now calling for talks with Obama on the health overhaul and deficit reduction as a condition for ending the shutdown. Obama says solve the impasse now, talk later.

Democrats like national parks and medical research as much as Republicans do, if not more. Why won't they go along with Republicans who say let's restore money for those things and more?

Leverage, for one reason. They lose it if only the most popular parts of government return to operation, and vital parts that are below the radar don't. As it is, the majority of the government never closed, dampening the visible impact of the partial shutdown. Sequestration, the budget diet imposed on the government, also has been playing out largely invisibly. Apart from leverage, Democrats say it's not right to cherry pick federal operations and the thing to do is get the government wholly back in business.

My eyes glaze over when I hear about debt default and the like. Make me care.

A: Politicians oversimplify things when they talk about the debt limit as if it's a household credit card. Governments don't operate like people who have jobs, grocery bills, car loans and homes to pay for. People don't have to keep bridges from falling apart or field an army. Yet leaders can't resist boiling everything down to family finances.

Well we can't either. Try missing a mortgage payment and see what happens.

The government hit its debt limit in May and has been using various accounting moves not available to the average person to keep paying interest on its debt and look after other bills. Those maneuvers will be all played out on or about Oct. 17, says the government. It would be unprecedented for the country to default on its debt.

How can this all be resolved?

A: In short, someone has to blink. And someone will.

Republicans laugh off the president's offer to talk about the health care law, spending cuts and more after the government is reopened and the debt ceiling raised. Democrats say no dice to lifting the health care law's tax on medical devices or attaching other preconditions to reopening government or solving the debt problem.

With the partial shutdown biting deeper by the day and especially with default looming, the pressure is on to move beyond Washington's partisan politics.

The shutdown, the debt and health care: a primer 10/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 11:36pm]
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