As Washington waits to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin can cobble together a deal that will save members of Congress from having to vote on military action in Syria, the question is: Why now?
Why is Syria hitting the headlines in September when Syrian president Bashar Assad has been killing and starving civilians for years?
The answer: Syria is a welcome distraction from September’s economic developments and October deadlines, which would be front-page news if it were not for Syria.
Obamacare: Come Oct. 1, Americans are supposed to sign up for health insurance at state or federal exchanges — which are not nearly ready. Without Syria, the papers might be full of stories about how Mary Jones, with three children and income just above the level needed to qualify for Medicaid, has lost her employer-provided health insurance and cannot purchase it on the exchange.
Obama’s flagrant disregard for the law: Obama has moved several Obamacare provisions from 2014 to 2015. Employers will not be fined for not offering health insurance to employees.
People receiving discounts for health insurance will not have to provide verification of their income. Individuals’ out-of-pocket health care costs will not be limited to $6,350 for individual policies and $12,700 for family policies.
Without Syria, many people would have been asking whether the president has the right to do this. They might also be asking why, if Obama waived these three provisions, he does not also delay the individual requirement to buy health insurance. Or, better yet, delay the whole bill.
The fiscal 2014 budget: Congress has not voted on the fiscal year 2014 budget, and the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Without Syria, people might be asking what is going on with the budget, and whether the sequester will still be in place next year.
Will Congress fulfill its obligation and pass a new budget, or face reality and continue current levels of spending, known as a “continuing resolution,” for 90 days?
If so, will the continuing resolution contain the sequester? Will Congress delay the mandatory cuts to Medicare that are due Oct. 1? No one knows.
The debt ceiling: America will hit the debt ceiling between Oct. 18 and Nov. 5. That means that Congress, as well as passing a budget or a continuing resolution, has to vote to lift the debt ceiling, or America could risk defaulting on its debt payments.
Congress wants to put conditions on raising the debt ceiling, whereas the president insists that he has the right to an unlimited ceiling. Another discussion that is off the front pages due to Syria.
The employment situation: Disturbing labor force data released Friday showed that the reduction in the unemployment rate to 7.3 percent was caused by a decline of 312,000 in the number of people in the labor force, a substantial deterioration.
The proportion of working-age Americans who have jobs or who are looking for them — the labor force participation rate — has been falling even though employment has been expanding.
It now stands at 63.2 percent, down two-tenths of a percentage point from July — the same level as in 1978, prior to the decade where millions of women marched into the labor force. Another convenient subject to have off the front pages in September.
Scandals. Syria has also displaced discussion of the extra scrutiny the Internal Revenue Service was giving — and by some reports, continues to give — to conservative organizations requesting tax-exempt status. And no one seems to be mentioning the first anniversary of the deaths of four Americans, including our ambassador, in Libya.
Not a bad month for Obama to pick a fight with Assad.DIANA FURCHTGOTT-ROTH, a Washington Examiner columnist and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.