Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Culpability of John Boehner

There is an inane tendency for reporters on American network news and especially on CNN to adopt a position that "both sides" are equally to blame for the nation's political dysfunction. Sometimes this assessment is correct.  Not this time, however. There is only one party to blame for the first government shutdown in 17 years. The blame lies squarely on the Republican Party and specifically on John Boehner, a weak and cowardly Speaker of the House.

Currently, the debate happening in Washington right now is not so much between Democrats and Republicans, but rather, it is one mostly occurring between Republicans who are trying to find some magic bullet to destroy Obamacare regardless of who is harmed or how much the country's fiscal health is damaged.

In the House of Representatives, every bill passed that would allow the government to continue to operate was amended with provisions defunding Obamacare. This is, for Democrats, a nonstarter – and the Republicans know it. The Affordable Care Act is the president's and the Democrat party’s signature achievement and neither will produce or sign a bill that undoes it.

Obamacare is the law of the land. It was passed by Congress (at which time the Democrats gave the Republicans every opportunity to join in – using many of the Republicans' demands and suggestions to try to get a bi-partisan bill), signed by the president, and upheld by the US Supreme Court. After nearly four years of  Republicans, along with FOX News, trying to derail it by using fear-mongering and lies, the insurance exchanges are up and running. Millions have already applied for their reasonably priced health insurance (more reasonably priced in states running their own exchanges).

Obamacare is now going into full effect. There is no reason for President Obama to be cowed by such legislative extortion. Yet, rather than accept the reality of Obamacare, Republicans are using a government shutdown and threat to default on the nation's debt to try to undo it.

In key respects, this disheartening series of events is the logical conclusion of the Republican Party's descent into insanity. This descent accelerated when President Obama was elected in 2008; and it worsened by a factor of 10 when he was re-elected in 2012. The Republicans just cannot accept that America would elect a black Democrat as President – twice.

The GOP has become a party dominated by a small group of politicians who are fundamentally nihilistic, contemptuous of democracy, bigoted against the President, and willing (even proud) to operate outside the long-accepted norms of the American governmental system. They refuse to accept majority rule.  They refuse to compromise with the Democrats, who are seen as the "enemy."

In the US system of government, compromise is its most essential element. US Democracy cannot work without compromise. Republicans must work with Democrats; the House of Representatives must work with the Senate; and both bodies must find common ground with the president. It is not always smooth, but it has generally worked for over 200 years – until the Tea Party faction got enough seats in the House of Representatives to gum up the works. This faction only represents about 18% of Americans, yet they have Boehner cowering in a corner, scared to stand up to them.

The problem today is that the modern GOP thinks compromise is anathema. That is the only explanation for how members of the party can view the possibility of a government shutdown – or even worse, the catastrophe of  a default on America's debt – as somehow a better option than reconciling themselves to the "abomination" that, bizarrely, they believe Obamacare to be (just like they believe all our social programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, are abominations). Granted, this isn't the view of all Republican office-holders – or even a majority. But it is the view of the party's most extreme rightwing supporters, which happens to be the majority of their base. Today, it is these extreme far right crazies who are controlling the party's leadership.

If the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, were to bring a clean budget bill to the House floor, with no provisions defunding or delaying Obamacare, it would almost certainly pass – with Democrats and Republicans joining together to support it. It would then get majority approval in the Senate and be signed by President Obama. So, why hasn't that happened yet? Because Boehner has pledged  to the Tea Party to only pass legislation that has the support of enough Republican members (unaided by Democrats) to be enacted – the so-called Hastert Rule of the House. They refuse to pass anything that requires the Democrats votes because that would entail compromise.  The result, of course, is that everything they pass and send to the Senate is extremely partisan and therefore Dead on Arrival (DOA).

So, now the government will remain shut down for a few days, probably up until the debt ceiling is imminent.  The US will come perilously close to a debt default. In the end, however, the semi-sane Republican faction will come to their senses, concede defeat, and pass a budget resolution and debt limit extension with Democratic support.

That the US will have come to such a pass – for no reason other than the extremism of the Republican Party and the culpability of John Boehner as Speaker of the House – is an important reminder of who is blame for the government dysfunction that has come to define our current US democracy.