By Tuesday morning, the leadership failure of Speaker John Boehner was obvious to all. In encouraging the impossible quest of House Republicans to dismantle healthcare reform, he pushed the country into a government shutdown that will now begin to take a grievous economic toll.
At any point, Mr. Boehner could have stopped it. Had he put on the floor a simple temporary spending resolution to keep the government open, without the outrageous demands to delay or defund the health reform law, it could easily have passed the House with a strong majority – including sizable support from Republican members, many of whom are aware of how badly this collapse will damage their party.
But Mr. Boehner refused.
He stood in the well of the House and repeated the same old tired lies that the Affordable Care Act was killing jobs. He came up with a series of increasingly ridiculous demands: defund the health law, delay it for a year, stop its requirement that employers pay for contraception, block the medical device tax, delay the individual mandate for a year, and remove Congressional employees’ health subsidies. All were instantly rejected by the Senate. “They’ve lost their minds,” Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said of the House Republicans. “They keep trying to do the same thing over and over again” and expect a different result.
Isn’t that the definition of insanity?
Finally, at the last minute, when there was still time to end the charade with a straightforward spending bill, Mr. Boehner made the most absurd demand of all: an immediate conference committee with the Senate. Suddenly, with less than an hour left, he wanted to set up formal negotiations?
For six months, the Senate has been demanding a conference with the House on the 2014 budget – talks that might have prevented the impasse in the first place. But the Boehner adamantly refused, knowing the GOP would not succeed in getting all the cuts to taxes and spending that it demands. For Mr. Boehner to call for a conference near the witching hour was the height of hypocrisy.
The consequences of Mr. Boehner’s failure was immediate: 800,000 government employees thrown out of work, over a million more working without pay, offices that provide important services closed, and programs on which poor people depend – like the Women, Infants and Children nutrition system – cut off. The longer Republicans refuse to approve a rational spending measure, the more federal agencies will be affected and the greater the damage done to an economy still in recovery.
Having let down the public, Republicans will now, inevitably, scramble to save their reputation. They are desperate to make it appear as if President Obama and the Democrats are the ones being intransigent, hoping voters will think that everyone is at fault and simply blame “Washington.” Boehner even mocked the president on Monday for refusing to negotiate over health reform, as if he actually expected President Obama to join in wrecking a law that will provide health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans under threat of blackmail.
On Tuesday, Republicans came up with another self-serving offer, proposing to open a few government departments whose closures are likely to produce negative news coverage, such as Veterans Affairs and the national parks. Democrats quickly made it clear that only a full reopening of government would suffice and tabled the bills.
Earlier in his presidency, in 2011, Obama made the catastrophic mistake in the face of just this sort of extortion to believe that Boehner could be reasonable. This time, however, the cynical games of the Republicans are not going to work.
The Republicans’ overwhelming obsession with destroying Obamacare and insane desire to ruin the president has been on full display. And, as the public’s anger grows over this entirely unnecessary crisis, it should be aimed at the Republican Party and its Speaker, not the Democrats, not the President.