There was a telling convergence of computer traffic jams last week that brought a dose of reality to far-right Republicans in Washington.
One jam occurred when millions of Americans in need of health insurance overwhelmed the servers at healthcare.gov during the opening of sign-ups under the Affordable Care Act. The other was a crush of traffic on U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ Facebook page after the Republican congresswoman from Dunn said she wouldn’t be giving up her paycheck during the government shutdown because she needs the money. Both instances demonstrated how out of touch tea party Republicans are with the real world. Maybe now they’ll return to it.
The tea party types and Republicans generally have been declaring since adoption of the Affordable Care Act that the public doesn’t want the program that will expand health insurance to more Americans. They cite polls showing a majority disapprove of the new health care law. But the polls obscure the fact that a sizable portion of those opposed wanted the law to do more, namely offer a public option or “Medicare for everyone.”
The polls also don’t show how many people actually know little about the plan. Some of the disapproval also reflects the conservatives’ incessant campaign against the law as a threat to the nation’s economy and its people’s freedom.
The hollowness of Republican claims became clear once their descriptions met reality. On Oct. 1, the online insurance exchanges opened across the nation and people crushed in like shoppers standing in line on the first day of iPhone sales. It seems people in the real world want health insurance they can afford.
While millions of insurance shoppers said one thing about reality, Ellmers had a highly publicized collision with it. Ellmers is a tea party zealot who clamors against “Obamacare” and was willing to shut down the government unless the law was defunded or delayed. But last week she discovered that there is a world beyond the Fox News bubble. When you shut down the government as part of a reckless crusade, it affects people. Federal employees get furloughed, federal services get closed. Many people don’t get paid. And one of those people should be you.
Instead, Ellmers said during a TV interview, “I need my paycheck. That is the bottom line.” In other words, “I need my paycheck. I don’t care if you need yours.”
Tea party Republicans have been careless about economic pain and the economy’s health, first forcing a sequester and then a shutdown, and they may yet cause a disastrous government default. They don’t appear to care about the human impact of cutting funding or their foot dragging as the economy tries to get rolling. But then reality entered Ellmers’ checking account, and she decided she didn’t like austerity.
Two days after the uproar, Ellmers reversed herself. She said she would join many Republican and Democratic colleagues and decline her paycheck from her $174,000 job for the duration of the shutdown.
The second-term congresswoman, a former nurse married to a doctor, said in statement: “I believe these issues will be resolved before Nov. 1. However, in the unfortunate event that they do not come to the table, I will stand with all federal workers and have my paycheck withheld.”
So Republicans have seen the clamor for coverage under the new health care law and at least one tea party member of Congress has seen the light. Now the ingredients are there for a return of reason. Republicans may see that many people do want “Obamacare,” and it’s not worth shutting down the government to keep it from them.