As luck would have it, I had two interesting experiences last week: visiting my granddaughter’s kindergarten class and watching Republicans in the House of Representatives deal with their constitutional responsibility to pass a budget. The two events were quite similar, with one big difference: The kindergartners behaved more like grown-ups than House Republicans did.
Thanks to the temper tantrum thrown by a handful of House Republicans, we are now deep in the middle of what President Obama deliberately, and accurately, calls a “Republican shutdown,” which is unnecessary, reckless, irresponsible, dangerous and childish for at least three reasons.
First, most members of the House don’t want to shut down the government. Everybody agrees that there are more than enough bipartisan votes to pass a clean, no-strings attached continuing budget resolution, if only Speaker Boehner would let the full House vote. But he refuses to do so. Instead, he’s allowed himself to be led around by a posse of tea-party Republicans who came to Washington determined to shut down the government and are using Obamacare as their excuse. They may only number 30 or 40, but there are enough of them to block a majority in the Republican caucus. And without that majority of the majority, the so-called “Hastert Rule,” Boehner won’t move forward for fear of losing his speakership. He’d rather put 800,000 federal employees out of a job, at least temporarily, than risk his own.
Second, for government to work at all, you just can’t keep re-fighting old battles. Republicans have already had three chances to kill the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. They opposed it in Congress, and they lost. They appealed it before the Supreme Court, and they lost. They took it to the American people in November 2012, with Mitt Romney as their champion, and they lost big time. Like it or not, as even Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has pointed out, it’s time to move on. Obamacare is the law of the land. It’s here to stay. Of course, it’s not perfect. It can be amended, or improved, anytime – through the legislative process. But Republicans should not be able to kill or delay the Affordable Care Act as a price for passing a budget – no more than Democrats could have gotten away with refusing to adopt a budget unless George Bush abolished his tax cuts for the wealthy.
And besides, Obamacare is working! It’s been the law of the land for three years. Within its first year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.5 million young people under the age of 26 signed up for coverage on their parents’ health care plan. Insurance companies can no longer deny children coverage because of a pre-existing condition, nor can they any longer dump policyholders because they develop a serious and costly illness. And, starting this week, Obamacare is only getting stronger as health care, for the first time, becomes available – at bargain rates – for 30 million Americans who do not receive health insurance through their jobs.
This, in fact, is what Republicans are so worried about: that so many millions of Americans will sign up for Obamacare, that it will prove so successful, they’ll never get rid of it. So, they’re trying to strangle and kill it now.
Finally, here’s what’s most outrageous about this so-called shutdown: Republicans aren’t shutting down the entire government. They’re only shutting down part of the government. Republicans, in other words, want it both ways. They want a relatively painless shutdown. Yes, under their plan, 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed. But the post office will still deliver the mail. Air traffic controllers will monitor flights. TSA will screen your bags. Meat and poultry inspectors will keep your food safe. And our troops will still be fighting in Afghanistan.
Which is nonsense! If we’re really going to shut down the government, let’s shut the whole thing down. Starting with Congress. No paychecks for members of Congress. No Capitol police on duty. No TSA. No air traffic controllers. No mail delivery. No Social Security or Medicare checks. No meat inspections. No FEMA clean-up after hurricanes or tornadoes. No Coast Guard rescues. No border guards. Shut it all down. No exceptions. Make it hurt. That’s the only way to show what a dangerous and monumentally stupid idea the “Republican shutdown” is.