Shutdown: GOP excuses galore as the wrecking ball swings

October 3, 2013 

As our National Zoo closes while the congressional zoo remains open and (infuriatingly!) pays itself, House Republicans are making a series of arguments about Why It’s Not Our Fault:

It’s the Democrats! If they want to end the government shutdown or avoid a debt-limit crisis, all they have to do is make a concession or two. How can President Barack Obama be willing to negotiate with tyrants in Russia and Iran, but not with the House majority?

Think about it. Suppose Russia or Iran said, “We will use cyberattacks to shut down your government and wreck your economy, unless you make concessions.” Would we then blithely sit down and negotiate an amicable solution?

Yet that’s what the House Republicans are saying. They’re insisting that Obama make concessions on a 3-year-old law or else they will dock wages of government employees and damage the national economy to the tune of $300 million a day. In effect they’re assuming that Obama is more responsible than they are and that he will capitulate to this blackmail and protect the economy.

Let’s be clear. This is not government as usual. I’ve watched politicians for decades and have seen any number of backstabbings, scandals, vituperations, and Machiavellian machinations. But I can’t think of the last time a major political party undertook a serious campaign to damage the U.S. economy, unless the other party gives in.

That’s not fair! We want to compromise. All the Democrats have to do is accept some changes in Obamacare, which is unpopular to begin with.

Obama compromised constantly in passing the Affordable Care Act (that’s why there’s no public option in the law and why he disappointed so many liberals by watering down health care reform in a doomed effort to get Republican support). But this compromise became law in 2010 and is now being implemented.

It’s time for Republicans to accept that. If Obamacare performs poorly, then Republicans can run against it in 2014 and 2016 and probably win seats.

The only reason for the government shutdown is that a small number of Republican hard-liners, around 40, insist on re-litigating health care reform over and over. If Speaker John Boehner allowed an open vote on the budget, it would likely pass. But Boehner hasn’t done that.

The broader problem is that many Republicans are in safe districts and are less worried about a Democratic challenger than about a primary opponent from the tea party. That’s a structural problem with congressional districts that makes America less governable. There are plenty of savvy Republicans who are aghast at what is going on, and let’s hope they take ownership. Otherwise, we face governance by pusillanimous peevishness and continuing economic distress.

You’re a little theatrical when you exaggerate the economic cost. As Fox News notes, this is less a government shutdown than a government slimdown. Yes, there is disruption, but essential services are being maintained – and so much has been designated “essential” that the damage is being minimized.

The government shutdown is just a prelude to the far greater damage we’ll suffer if the circus continues and the debt limit isn’t raised.

In any case, at the National Institutes of Health, two-thirds of the staff is furloughed. That means that as long as the shutdown continues, 30 children each week – many with cancer – won’t get access to clinical trials.

You want to tell those kids that the damage is “minimized”?

Maybe the tea party got out of hand, and maybe this wasn’t John Boehner’s finest moment. But you can’t blame everything on Republicans. This is a typical Washington mess, and they’re all responsible.

That’s usually true of Washington messes, and there are certainly Democratic failings. As a senator, Obama tried to use the debt limit as leverage against President George W. Bush –- and that was as immature as the Republican abuse of the debt limit today; the difference is that Obama’s action was an empty political gesture.

It’s also fair to wonder whether Obama might have won more cooperation from Republican leaders if he had tried to charm them over golf and dinners. Maybe not, but more wooing and flattery couldn’t have hurt.

But those are nits. This is not “gridlock” in which both parties have locked horns and share the blame. This is one of those rare situations where extremists in one party have become untethered and are unleashing a wrecking ball on our commonweal – and it’ll get worse if the debt limit isn’t extended.

Even Vladimir Putin or Hasan Rouhani don’t demand concessions by explicitly threatening our national well-being. It’s sad when these threats arise at home from a wing of what we once called the Grand Old Party.

The New York Times

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service