- Photo by Medill DC / Flickr
As of midday Tuesday, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner was scrambling to build support for a plan to reopen the federal government and raise the limit on the amount of money the government can borrow in order to pay its bills, thereby averting domestic and global economic calamity.
On one level, it’s appropriate that such activity should be happening in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, because it’s the GOP House caucus that needlessly and recklessly perched the country on the precipice of disaster. However, it’s also possible that whatever comes out of the House will be unacceptable to the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate and President Barack Obama.
Let’s remember how we got here: At the end of September, Republicans in the House refused to pass what’s known as a continuing resolution to keep the government funded into the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Driven by the ultra-conservative wing of the party, the House GOP held out for delaying or defunding Obamacare, which was never going to happen. Regardless, non-essential federal-government services were shut down, meaning 800,000 workers were immediately furloughed without pay and another 1.3 million had to work for no pay.
Many of the Republicans spent the next couple of weeks blaming Obama and the Democrats for the shutdown, but, fortunately, the American public can clearly see what’s directly in front of them: to quote Obama, “One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government, all because they didn’t like one law.” Polls show the public correctly blames Republicans.
Meanwhile, this Thursday, Oct. 17, loomed as the date when the U.S. government reached its socalled “debt ceiling” and therefore could no longer pay its bills by borrowing money—although the treasury might have enough cash on hand to delay that catastrophe for another few weeks.
In addition to the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling gave the nuttiest Republicans another form of leverage to attempt to pry concessions from Obama and the Democrats. However, Obama has resolutely refused to negotiate over the debt ceiling. For starters, that would be akin to negotiating with domestic terrorists who are threatening to destroy the U.S. economy. But also, the debt ceiling is a pointless rule that has long outlived its original purpose, and you can’t give a minority of extremists policy concessions every time the government hits an arbitrary borrowing limit.
We can argue all we want over spending vs. revenue—and we should, robustly—but the time to do that is during regular budget negotiations, not after the government has already made its financial commitments. The (not-so) funny thing is, when the kooks in the Republican Party should have been making their case on spending, they were busy obsessing over Obamacare, ultimately performing what amounted to a temper tantrum over a law that resulted from a genuine and proper process, from which they emerged the loser.
Obviously, these several-dozen loons reflect poorly on congressional Republicans as a whole, many of whom are relatively reasonable. Except for a few—like New York’s Peter King, who’s often hysterical but these days looks downright sensible—these more rational Republicans won’t isolate their outlier colleagues, presumably because of the havoc they can cause come election time. And because they’re safe in far-right gerrymandered districts, the extremists themselves have nothing to fear and nothing to hold them accountable.
“Since 1995,” Meyerson wrote, “the demographic and cultural changes transforming this nation have deepened the Republicans’ marginality. The growth of Latino and Asian populations—both groups increasingly trend Democratic—has relentlessly reduced the white share of the electorate, on which Republicans have come to rely almost exclusively.”
Their two choices have been to move to the ideological center or disrupt the public process from the fringes; the choice they’ve made is obvious. But, Meyerson says, it’s not sustainable. “Eventually,” he wrote, “the number of millennials, voters of color and fed-up moderates will rise to the point that 218 sufficiently white and conservative House districts can no longer be crafted. How much havoc Republicans can wreak until then, however, is anybody’s guess.”
At least someone sees light at the end of this tunnel of horrors.
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