Katy Burns: Enough is enough!
The U.S. Senate chaplain’s prayer was more like an order, barked out by the retired Navy admiral.
“Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on far-away battlefields, it’s time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough,” Barry Black said during his morning prayer, a daily Senate ritual.
But the good reverend touched only the tip of the problem. Death benefits to the families of dead soldiers were far from the only obligations that went unmet when the U.S. Congress shut down most of the nation’s government.
And Black also addressed the wrong people. The Senate has been relatively (and surprisingly) sane during the latest Capitol crisis. At least if you don’t count Texas’s Ted Cruz and his small band of allies.
It is the House of Representatives – more specifically the Republicans and most specifically a group of perhaps 40 zealots among them – who brought most of the business of the federal government to a screeching halt.
Yep. In a tail-wagging-the-dog triumph, they managed to bully and intimidate the majority of other House Republicans and their hapless “leader,” Speaker John Boehner, into going along with a crackpot scheme to do away with the funding for their bête noir, Obamacare, known officially as the Affordable Care Act, and to shut down most of the federal government to achieve that end.
It was a foolish, doomed-to-failure idea, that the president and the Democrats in the Senate would go along with deliberately destroying the three-year-old law that attempts to achieve a goal that has been a Democratic (and sometimes Republican) goal for decades. But the Republicans bulled ahead in a maneuver that amazed and appalled much of the watching world.
As the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher put it, “For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news – the result of revolution, invasion or disaster.” Even Syria – Syria, in the midst of a violent civil war! – is still paying its bills and workers, he said.
That politicians from “one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreased economic growth is astonishing to many,” he added. “Now . . . policymakers in other nations are left to ponder the worldwide impact of the impasse.”
As the rest of the world ponders our fecklessness, our country’s citizens are dealing with the shutdown’s ever-widening fallout. Suddenly we see how much we take for granted all the things we expect of our national government in the 21st century – and how fragile our economy still is.
An outbreak of possibly antibiotic-resistant salmonella food poisoning? Sorry, most of the CDC’s foodborne illness analysts are on mandated furlough. Planned a nice Columbus Day weekend trip to a national park or monument? Tough. They’re closed. From veterans’ cemeteries both here and abroad to important medical research in government labs, we are closed indefinitely.
Nearly a million government employees are shut out of their jobs. Hundreds of thousands more are working for reduced or in some cases no pay. The economy is losing many millions of dollars. State and local governments are feeling the effects of reduced or vanished taxes and fees. Businesses and merchants dependent on government contracts and the patronage of federal workers are suffering.
And this misery is brought to us – to you – by Republicans. Not by “both sides.” It is one side, one party, which is determined to undo, or at least to cripple, a law which benefits millions of American citizens and doesn’t care what collateral damage it may wreak.
And as I write this, the same people are also threatening not to pay the nation’s bills – to default on our collective debts, to become willful deadbeats – if they don’t get their way. It would be the first time in our 229-year history that we would have failed to pay our lawfully incurred bills. We would join the ranks of such illustrious nations as Angola, Cameroon, Dominica and the Solomon Islands.
But in the case of other such nations, they were forced into bankruptcy by often awful economic circumstances. If we default, it will be because we chose to do so, heedless of the consequences. Well, by “we” I don’t mean myself or, most likely, you. I mean the small pack of intransigent House Republicans, virtually all from safe districts, who are driven by a loathing for this president that has become almost pathological.
They are not really Republicans as the nation has known them. They are self-styled Tea Party warriors, beholden to no one, who are seemingly heedless of the damage they have already done to the Grand Old Party. They seem driven by profound alienation from many of the social, cultural and political trends over the last few decades and seem to believe they’re making a last stand for an apparently vanished America.
They are typified by one Ted Yoho, a Floridian (who I suspect was elected in part because people just liked the idea of a congressman named Yoho). Yoho, a birther who had already gained national attention when he compared his determination to do with away with Obamacare and its promise of health insurance coverage to millions of Americans with the ardor of civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. He increased his infamy when he railed against a tanning salon tax as “racist” discrimination against white people.
The large animal vet and, apparently, self-taught economist explained to all who would listen that a national default would be, really, no big deal. After all, he said, “it would bring stability to the world markets. I feel in my heart that this (default) is the right thing.”
Okay, forget any actual, you know, knowledge. He feels, he believes, he knows in his heart.
Do we really want folks like this running the country, determining our future?
I sure don’t, and I am seemingly not alone if the results of an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll are remotely accurate. It shows the Republican Party sinking like a stone even as President Obama’s popularity actually inches slightly up.
By week’s end, as they read the polls, the GOP seemed to be trying to dig themselves out of their hole, but nobody was predicting the ungovernable Republican representatives would go along with it.
It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. The Republican Party elders cozied up to the so called Tea Partiers when they first came on the scene. The GOP’s traditional supporters – chamber of commerce and country club types – were happy to encourage the nascent movement, seeing it as a path to power. But now, when the newcomer’s antics threaten the nation’s economic well-being, those who applauded them are horrified to see that the Tea Partiers refuse to be controlled.
As freshman Tea Party favorite Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana said, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)