And some Congressional Democrats are willing to let them.
By Andy Cohen
America’s entire system of governance is being threatened. Our Constitution, the presidency, the rule of law itself is under attack.
Republicans have shut down the government and are holding the government and the entire U.S. economy hostage, and are doing so for no apparent reason. They have insisted that President Obama “negotiate” with them, but they have absolutely no clue what they want from “negotiations.” House Speaker John Boehner has demanded that Obama have a “conversation” with House Republicans. All we want is a “conversation,” he said over and over again last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”, never once uttering the other “C” word, “compromise.”
This desperation to have a “conversation” must be a very new development, since each of the 19 requests for a budget conference committee–exactly what Boehner is whining for now–on the part of Senate Democrats have been flatly rejected.
I put the word “negotiations” above in quotes for a very simple reason: There is nothing to negotiate. And there are no compromises being offered. What the Republicans are demanding is a ransom in exchange for not deliberately doing harm to the country. There is no give and take. Give us everything we want—including the abandonment of Obamacare—or we’ll torch the economy.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have asked for nothing, have demanded nothing except for the passage of a clean CR (continuing resolution) that funds the government at current levels, which in and of itself is a major victory for Republicans, since it keeps the sequester in place and continues to decimate spending on programs that are important to Democrats. Like, for example, the NIH. Or food safety inspections. Or clean air and clean water. Republicans have already cut $40 billion from the food stamps, potentially plunging 14 million people even further into poverty, and would surely eliminate it altogether if they could because poor people are the bane of their entire existence. Ignore them and maybe they’ll go away.
Ostensibly this entire showdown began over the Affordable Care Act. Republicans for some reason have a major problem with 30 million Americans being granted access to health care. But the defunding or repeal of “Obamacare” (the pejorative term for the ACA) is apparently no longer the goal. There doesn’t actually seem to be a goal at all, other than to create havoc and possibly remake our entire system of governance; to turn majority rule to minority rule.
Put it this way: Barack Obama was elected president….twice. The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president. It was challenged, and upheld as constitutional by the most radically conservative Supreme Court possibly in our nation’s history. The 2012 election was in large part a referendum on the ACA, and Obama still won. Handily.
In the Senate, Democrats managed to increase their majority hold by two seats. In the House of Representatives Democrats gained eight seats. But perhaps more telling, Democrats earned 1.4 million more votes in Congressional elections than did Republicans. Severely gerrymandered districts designed to protect safe Republican Congressional seats saved the Republicans’ (and Speaker John Boehner’s) bacon and kept them in the majority.
This standoff is not about Obamacare, if it ever was. They have railed incessantly about the law—and it is a law—that has the potential to transform our healthcare system for the better, the basis for which was a Republican idea to begin with. When it was signed into law, their mantra was “repeal and replace,” although lately the entire emphasis has been focused on “repeal” with not even lip service given to “replace.” They have offered exactly zero alternatives…..until recently, when San Diego’s own Darrell Issa (R-Vista), perhaps the meanest, most self serving of them all, offered up an “alternative” that is almost exactly like the Affordable Care Act, only more expensive.
Issa, in other words, wants to replace Obamacare with Obamacare.
Still, even with no discernible purpose or demands, House Republicans are resorting to tactics to make Democrats look unreasonable. They’ve shut down the government—deliberately—and are about to obliterate the debt ceiling, yet they don’t want to be blamed for it. So in an effort to appear the more humane party, they have resorted to picking and choosing which departments, which portions of the government they want to allow to reopen; which of the nation’s 800,000 furloughed federal workers get to go back to work, and which will be forced to stay home.
Meanwhile, Democrats have refused to consider anything but a clean bill with no conditions attached, with the exception of a few renegades. As many as 34 Democrats, including San Diego’s Scott Peters, have acceded to the tactic of making Republicans look less bad by voting to restore funding one program at a time, rather than holding out for reopening the government in its entirety. The idea is to make Democrats look heartless by not restoring funding to programs such as veterans benefits, NIH research funding (which Republicans have already cut by $1.5 billion due to the sequester), and national parks, and not putting at least some federal workers back on the job.
“We have to reward good behavior, and call out and punish bad behavior” Peters told me in an interview last month, saying that the Tea Party has the place “locked up.”
It remains unclear how voting for their piecemeal strategy punishes their bad behavior. Peters says he’s being pragmatic; that real people are being hurt by this shutdown, and that it’s not fair that they should suffer due to the intransigence of the minority, and that given the opportunity he will vote in favor of opening something….anything.
He’s right that real people are being hurt by the government shutdown—particularly here in San Diego where 22% of the workforce is tied to federal government spending. Even more people will be hurt if Republicans allow a breach of the debt ceiling, which they are certain to do with glee. And they’re being hurt by design.
The government shutdown and the breach of the debt ceiling was something that was months—and perhaps years—in the making. It was seen as the way to achieve minority rule; to subvert the normal function of government. Republicans set out to deliberately hurt people because they knew that Democrats would be squeamish about it, expecting that Dems would eventually cave and give them everything they wanted. They set out to threaten the economic and financial stability of the federal government, knowing that Democrats are so weak that they couldn’t possibly withstand the pressure. Democrats, after all, have no spine and will cower at the prospect of children being denied experimental cancer treatments.
But Peters and the 33 other Democrats are flat wrong. By voting with Republicans, they are condoning the tactic of holding the country hostage. They are legitimizing it as the new way that government functions, undermining our electoral system, the presidency, and the Constitution itself. Negotiating with terrorists only creates more terrorists, and codifies terrorist tactics as the norm.
Cold as it may seem, perhaps its best that Republicans are allowed to inflict their damage. Elections must have consequences. Election results must be sacrosanct and won on the strength of ideas and civil debate. Our government cannot be allowed to be controlled via guerilla warfare. Because once we accept it as legitimate, there can be no going back.
America must be shown which political party stands for responsible governance; which party represents the best interests of the nation as a whole. God help us all if they choose the Republicans.