As our National Zoo closes while the congressional zoo remains open and (infuriatingly!) pays itself, House Republicans are making a series of arguments about Why It's Not Our Fault:
<i>It's the Democrats! If they want to end the government shutdown or avoid a debt-limit crisis, all they have to do is make a concession or two. How can President Barack Obama be willing to negotiate with tyrants in Russia and Iran, but not with the House majority?</i>
Think about it. Suppose Russia or Iran said, "We will use cyberattacks to shut down your government and wreck your economy, unless you make concessions." Would we then blithely sit down and negotiate an amicable solution?
Yet that's what the House Republicans are saying. They're insisting that Obama make concessions on a 3-year-old law, or else they will dock wages of government employees and damage the national economy to the tune of $300 million a day. In effect they're assuming that Obama is more responsible than they are, and that he will capitulate to this blackmail and protect the economy.
Let's be clear. This is not government as usual. I've watched politicians for decades and have seen any number of backstabbings, scandals, vituperations and Machiavellian machinations. But I can't think of the last time a major political party undertook a serious campaign to damage the U.S. economy, unless the other party gives in.
<i>That's not fair! We want to compromise. All the Democrats have to do is accept some changes in Obamacare, which is unpopular to begin with.</i>
Obama compromised constantly in passing the Affordable Care Act (that's why there's no public option in the law, and why he disappointed so many liberals by watering down health care reform in a doomed effort to get Republican support). But this compromise became law in 2010 and is now being implemented.
It's time for Republicans to accept that. If Obamacare performs poorly, then Republicans can run against it in 2014 and 2016 and probably win seats.
The only reason for the government shutdown is that a small number of Republican hard-liners, around 40, insist on relitigating health care reform over and over. If Speaker John Boehner allowed an open vote on the budget, it would likely pass. But Boehner hasn't done that.
The broader problem is that many Republicans are in safe districts and are less worried about a Democratic challenger than about a primary opponent from the tea party. That's a structural problem with congressional districts that makes America less governable. There are plenty of savvy Republicans who are aghast at what is going on, and let's hope they take ownership. Otherwise, we face governance by pusillanimous peevishness and continuing economic distress.
<i>You're a little theatrical when you exaggerate the economic cost. As Fox News notes, this is less a government shutdown than a government slimdown. Yes, there is disruption, but essential services are being maintained — and so much has been designated "essential" that the damage is being minimized.</i>
The government shutdown is just a prelude to the far greater damage we'll suffer if the circus continues and the debt limit isn't raised.
In any case, at the National Institutes of Health, two-thirds of the staff is furloughed. That means that as long as the shutdown continues, 30 children each week — many with cancer — won't get access to clinical trials.