With the shutdown dragging along and no discernible progress coming out of Wednesday's meeting between President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders, Republicans bemoaned the Democrats' unwillingness to negotiate. They'll negotiate with the president of Iran, was the common GOP talking point, but they won't talk to us.
Actually, the more appropriate comparison might have been that President Obama didn't negotiate with foreign terrorists out to hurt the country, and he isn't rewarding similar tactics back home. California Rep. George Miller, a Democrat, may have gone too far when he recently referred to the tea party attack on Obamacare as a "jihad" on the House floor, but not by too much.
Make no mistake, one can't compare the standoff going on right now in Washington to disputes over the federal budget that have taken place in the past. This is different. An extremist group within the Republican Party is putting its antagonism toward the Affordable Care Act above the interests of the country.
As the president noted during his appearance today in Rockville, he's willing to negotiate over "everything" but not while there's a gun to the head of the American people. The House's unwillingness to allow a vote on a "clean" budget resolution is what has caused the shutdown, and they can resolve it at any moment by bringing the bill to the floor, as at least 17 moderate Republicans would likely endorse it.
We've said it before and we'll say it again. If Obamacare is half as bad as opponents claim, eventually it will be swept away by the American people, if not in the first year it's fully implemented than surely in the 2014 election. But this week's deluge of interest in signing up for coverage at the new health care exchanges (more than 6 million the first day, which overwhelmed the on-line system) is a reminder of how many millions of people in this country desperately want affordable health insurance — and how much good the law will do.
Meanwhile, the House GOP's tactics of late — to cherry-pick agencies to fund and reopen or to rush to the aid of veterans trying to visit a closed World War II Memorial — shows how bankrupt their political position has become. What we are witnessing is the fracturing of a political party that has been kidnapped by the far-right with the complicity of House Speaker John Boehner. It is a maneuver that offers no rational exit other than standing down.
As Mr. Obama observed during his appearance at M. Luis Construction, tea party members should not expect a "reward" for doing their jobs. The Democrats have attached no partisan strings to the continuing resolution to keep the government open at the funding levels sought by Republicans. How can the tea partiers in the House expect to be offered anything for doing the equivalent of strapping C-4 and a detonator to their chests and holding the government hostage?
Even the little fixes the GOP is offering are outrageous if they slow down the return of fully-funded government. Reopening parks would be great, but what about cancer patients denied treatment? And for every National Institutes of Health reopened, what about funding for inspectors that are making sure our food isn't tainted, or intelligence officers monitoring for the next al-Qaida attack, or FDA scientists reviewing the next miracle drug? It's impossible to even keep track all the hardships the shutdown has created, and why do so when the solution is at hand?
Reward these tactics and you'll only see more of it in Congress. And that's critically important given that the stakes are about to rise. Should Republicans engage in similar behavior with the debt ceiling, they risk not only the health of the U.S. economy but the global economy. To default on the debt — to refuse to pay bills already incurred by the federal government — has the potential to pull the nation back into recession and put thousands, if not millions, of people out of work.
How could that even be on the table? The simple answer, of course, is that the gerrymandered districts represented by the tea party members in the House — the suicide caucus as they are often called — support it even as the rest of the country doesn't. But even that seems inadequate to explain the willingness of the rest of the party to go along with them — and against the advice of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's chief executive officers and leading economists. Where is that old pro-business GOP?
They had better show up soon. Each day the government stays shuttered, the more costly this wasteful fiasco will become.