This week’s government shutdown is the ultimate expression of tactics developed and employed by the far-right wing of the Republican Party for years — a deliberate gumming up of the government works, a worrisome conflation of austerity and anarchy. As President Obama and sane leaders in both parties seek to unlock the systems of government, they must find a way to get the government going again. But they must also make sure GOP hard-liners’ tactics aren’t rewarded; otherwise, they will be deployed again.
It would be a great mistake to view the shutdown as merely a symptom of gridlock or division, because that suggests an equal level of support on both sides. What’s most troubling about the recent actions of the far right has been its ability to get its way despite strong public sentiment in the opposite direction. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday showed that voters oppose shutting down the government to defund Obamacare by a 72-22 margin. Consider, too, that the same forces blocked a bipartisan compromise on criminal background checks for gun buyers that, according to a vast number of polls, about 80 percent of Americans support.
This has been accomplished not because of unbridgeable differences between the parties, but because of dire conflicts within one party, the Republicans. House members whose better instincts argue against such extreme tactics — a group that includes many GOP leaders — are hamstrung by the threat of primary election challenges from Tea Party absolutists. These challenges are greatly abetted by special-interest-funded super PACs, and by a messaging operation that includes conservative talk-show hosts and other media figures as foot soldiers. In that world, any compromise is surrender, and any levers — even those that damage the economy or disrupt the basic functioning of society — are tools for right-wing demands.
It’s a dangerous situation. Those who might urge Obama or the Senate to agree to delay the implementation of Obamacare as a lesser evil than shutting down the government should consider the demands that House Speaker John Boehner issued on behalf of his GOP caucus as conditions for raising the debt ceiling, a move that must occur by Oct. 17 to avoid a ruinous default on US bonds. The demands include not only a one-year delay of Obamacare, but fast-track authority to remake the tax code, immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, more means-testing for Medicare, a rollback of environmental regulations on coal ash, the defunding of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and more.
Approving an appropriations bill that funds existing policies and raising the debt ceiling when debts have already been incurred are core responsibilities of Congress. They are not hostages to be taken to force concessions on policies that have already been debated and approved through regular legislative and judicial channels.
A month-long government shutdown would shave 1.4 percent off the quarterly GDP, according to Moody’s Analytics, which might be enough to push the economy into recession. Obama and the Senate should continue to apply pressure on House GOP leaders to back down. If Boehner were to allow the full House to vote on a budget resolution, the impasse would end immediately, as mainstream Republicans and Democrats would join forces to restore sanity. It’s the only fair and democratic solution. It’s time for Boehner and the mainstream GOP to reclaim the House, and their senses.