Boehner deserves blame for the government shutdown

October 1, 2013 

President Obama had it exactly right when he called the shutdown of the United States government an “ideological crusade” on the part of right-wing Republicans. What a price the tea party element in the Republican Party is prepared to make the American people pay for the belief on the part of the extremists that shutting government down is no big deal and kind of fun.

This is a sorry commentary indeed on the ineffectiveness of Speaker John Boehner. It’s another head-scratching moment. First, the people watched as a couple of editions of ineffective sessions of Congress failed to do much because the Democrats in the U.S. Senate couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to get anything done. Why, people wondered, does the majority not simply rule?

And now the question is, why can’t Speaker Boehner, who has the necessary votes to pass a bill to keep the government going without attachments designed to wreck the Affordable Care Act, get that done? The answer is a maddening conundrum: Boehner fears alienating the tea partyers, who though a long way from having a majority can make mischief. If he passes a “clean bill,” absent the slaps at “Obamacare,” with the few moderate Republicans and Democrats on his side, he’ll spend the rest of his speakership with a target on his back and enemies in his own caucus who shoot first and ask questions later.

This is a testament to Boehner’s complete lack of political courage and principle. He has stood out front defending the attempts to wreck Obamacare by delaying implementation of some parts of it as though a law that was passed by Congress and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court just doesn’t count. Even the tea partyers in Boehner’s caucus ought to understand that a law is a law is a law. But apparently these anti-government bullies don’t get it.

A shutdown (the last one came 17 years ago) will shutter national parks, and virtually all federal agencies will deliver only emergency services. It could unsettle an economy that’s not exactly robust. Hundreds of thousands of workers will go home.

And, by the way, it doesn’t accomplish anything. The extremes in the Republican Party in Congress quickly will discover what their leaders already know from similar antics that former Speaker Newt Gingrich directed against President Bill Clinton. The Republicans will get the blame, which they deserve, and will likely suffer serious political consequences. And President Obama, whom they seem to despise even more than they did Clinton, will see his favorability ratings go up.

Unfortunately, the anti-government Republicans who now treat their speaker without any respect (likewise their constituents) either don’t remember what happened with the last shutdown or just don’t care.

What sad irony there is that, on the day Obamacare really began with enrollments, this settled issue continued to be used to divide people and sift them according to ideology. This, even though health care reform will offer an opportunity for better care and ultimately lower-cost care to millions of Americans. The most vociferous opponents have relied little on facts and responsible forecasts and instead nodded toward right-wing radio and TV hosts and tea partyers in Congress who live by the no-so-sound principle of listening only to what they want to hear.

But Speaker Boehner knows better. That’s what makes his embarrassing performance all the worse. His tea partyers intentionally appeal to the worst instincts of their constituents, to their fears. Someone in Boehner’s position should instead steer the debate toward hopes.

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