Government Shutdown, Italian Style

Misery loves company, goes the old saying. And in the face of government shutdown, America is not entirely alone. Head to Italy and the average American, who is most likely to be opposed to Obamacare, will find many with whom to sympathize. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government just survived a vote of confidence in parliament on Wednesday. The result means that his weak left-right coalition government will live to see another day. Even though Washington actually crossed the threshold for shutdown, Americans and Italians have more in common with each other than either may realize.

Much like the Obama administration and Senate Democrats, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his People of Freedom party seem intent on taking their country down a path it doesn’t want to go. From the outset, President Obama and Congressional Democrats have refused to even consider any changes to the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare—which is opposed by 53 percent of Americans, according to a September 2013 USA Today/Pew poll. It’s not even popular among labor unions, whose health plans could face new taxes and no new subsidies.

Obama won’t negotiate on the health law because it is the centerpiece of his domestic “legacy,” hoping to be immortalized alongside Democratic heroes like FDR and LBJ, who stuck to their guns in advancing their big-government vision for America. Public opinion be damned, Americans will learn to like it later.

Unfortunately, the media, with its cries of “intransigent Republicans,” is playing right into his hands. The fact of the matter is that Senate Democrats have repeatedly rejected bills to keep the government running. After the president instituted a one-year delay in Obamacare’s requirement for employer-purchased health insurance in July, Senate Dems snub their noses today at bills that delay the same requirement for individuals. Also rejected was a House bill that merely sets up a committee to hammer out differences between the House and Senate to foster agreement on a plan to get the government running again.

Democrats want to keep 100 percent of their coveted healthcare law. But Republicans are labeled the uncompromising stubborn lot.

What’s the end-game if the former get their way? Another step towards the big-government consensus that Obama is trying to cement in place. The argument over big government is long over in Italy, of course, and serious reform has not entered the national conversation even as the country has lurched from crisis to crisis. Deputies protect entitlement sacred cows that bring them votes and guard the lavish benefits that Berlusconi has promised them as politicians.

That is why five governing ministers within Berlusconi’s party followed his orders and threatened to resign in protest last week over his potential ouster from the Senate that may come to pass this week, after the Supreme Court upheld a tax-fraud conviction this summer. Under Berlusconi’s tenure, Italy’s parliamentarians were the highest paid in Europe. Perks included free travel within Italy and heavily subsidized gourmet meals in the parliament cafeteria, among many others.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi is on a hunt for glory, having portraying himself as an action hero poised to rescue Italy from the “edge of abyss.” And he doesn’t want to lose that moment in the sun, much as Obama doesn’t want to lose his “legacy.”

Berlusconi and his deputies threatened to collapse Italy’s government over petty self-interest. Instead of material gain, Obama promises his deputies a place in history alongside himself. By refusing to even negotiate with Republicans over aspects of the health law that are unpopular among businesses, individuals, and their own supporters, Obama and Congressional Democrats, driven by the same motives as their Italian counterparts, created a government shutdown.

They claim that they won’t compromise over something so essential to the American people, but Obamacare is only essential to the President’s hopes for glory. For everyone else, it means higher taxes, an overbearing government, and broken promises like, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”

To that, the American people should simply say, “Basta.” Berlusconi finally relented in the face of his selfishness. Will Obama and his Democrats do the same? We should hope so.