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Washington Memo: Tea Party is driving the D.C. crisis

One of the most critical responsibilities of a legislative body is to keep the basic functions of government operating. Unfortunately, in the next few days, we may see Tea Party Republicans force a government shutdown. This will happen even though polling indicates almost 60 percent of the population opposes shutting down the government to defund health care reform.

The Affordable Care Act is a law that passed both houses of Congress, was signed by President Obama and upheld by the Supreme Court. Whether you agree or disagree with the law, the thing to do now is to fix the things that need fixing and make sure that we’re improving access to health care while reducing the costs. Rather than work together, congressional Republicans are engaging in what Charles Krauthammer refers to as a “suicide mission” to shut down the government, even though a shutdown would hurt the economy. They are ignoring the warning from the National Chamber of Commerce, which said, “It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or the American people to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy.”

Forcing the government to shut down due to ideological extremism would stop or delay many vital governmental functions. It would stop pay to all federal employees, including our military, limit veterans’ access to benefits and prevent new enrollees from getting Social Security checks. It would hurt our economy. All of this nonsense would actually increase the budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that repeal of the Affordable Care Act would only increase the deficit, clearly not a good solution to our budget challenges.

This is an irresponsible ploy. We should be focused on finding common ground instead of holding the government hostage to Tea Party extremism. Former senator Judd Gregg recently wrote that, “Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should. The self-promotional babble of a few has become the mainstream of Republican political thought. It has marginalized the influence of the party to an appalling degree.”

It’s worth noting that it really is the Tea Party driving this crisis. Most Republicans have acknowledged they don’t have the votes to defund Obamacare in the Senate and that trying to shut the government down doesn’t make sense. Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said shutting the government down over Obamacare was “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” Sen. John McCain does not support the idea. The Tea Party Republicans in the House are obsessed with repeal fever anyway. Last week, they voted for the 42nd time to repeal all or parts of the Affordable Care Act. We haven’t passed a budget or a jobs bill, but we’ve found time to indulge in 42 futile and unnecessary votes.

We don’t have much time left for silly political games. The last thing our economy needs is another shock to its system from a government shutdown.

Instead of having an ideological fight that was settled in the last election, we should be debating jobs bills, improving our education system, and making the investments in science and infrastructure that we so desperately need. We need to reform the tax code so we can promote business growth and employment. We have environmental problems to solve, and so many other issues need our attention. I stand ready to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues on finding common ground and getting things moving here in Washington. Let’s just hope the Republican leadership is willing to ignore the Tea Party flank and work across the aisle, for the good of Americans everywhere.

(U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat, represents New Hampshire’s 1st District.)

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