This has been swirling around in the vast empty expanses of the inside of my head for a few weeks now; it comes up again whenever I hear another story about members of Congress not doing one of their basic jobs, providing for the smooth operation of our federal government.
The House and Senate are supposed to pass a budget to fund operations of the federal government, but they haven’t done so in years. They’ve passed a series of continuing resolutions, which essentially renew the previous spending plan for government departments. Today is the last day of the federal government’s fiscal year, the day the previous budget plans expire. You’d think Congress would take care of that, right? In fairness, most members of Congress want to pass new spending legislation, but they’re being stymied by extremist Republican/Tea Party members who are still fighting the fight over the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare.
The president’s signature piece of legislation overhauling the way we provide and pay for health care insurance in this country was approved by Congress after a terrific fight; the law has since been found by the Supreme Court of the United States to be constitutional. Like a lot of laws, this one doesn’t enjoy the full support of everyone in the country, but it did win support of a majority in Congress and on the Supreme Court, and that’s what it needs to become the law of the land. It’s a big victory for President Obama, maybe his biggest.
So, why…why, why why, in the wide wide world of sports, do the extremist Republicans think they can convince the president to just give it up? Because that’s’ what they’re doing right now.
It is Congress’ responsibility to pass the spending legislation, no one else can do it for them; but the extremist Republicans in the House (to this point) will only pass a spending plan that specifically cuts out funding for the new health care insurance law. Surprise, surprise: the Democrats in the Senate refuse to accept that, and they pass legislation that funds Obamacare and send it back to the House. Stalemate.
So the extremist Republicans offer a compromise, promising to pass a bill to fund the government if the president and the Senate will agree to delay implementation of the ACA. And I ask, again: why the hell would they agree to that?
I get it, extremist conservatives don’t like the new law. Why they’re so vehemently opposed to it is not the point right now; the point, I believe, is that it’s insane for them to think that threatening to hold their breathes until they turn collectively blue is a viable strategy to either force or persuade their political opponents to hand over the marbles they won fair and square.
In a negotiation, in an attempt to come to a compromise solution, one side offers the other something it wants in return for a concession, and they trade offers back and forth until they (hopefully) come to an agreement. Here, the extremist Republicans aren’t offering the other side something it wants in an effort to come to an agreement…in fact, the thing the other side wants in this case—a new spending plan—is something the Congress is bound by law to provide, no negotiation required. Instead, the extremist Republicans are threatening to take action (or more accurately for this case, inaction) that will hurt EVERYBODY if they don’t get their way.
I ran across a very interesting short blog post by James Fallows at The Atlantic this morning, in which he distills important points that I think we should all keep in mind as we consider the on-going dysfunction in our government and our politics in the last generation or so: the only fight that really matters today is the one within the Republican Party, and that we are cruelly disserved by any alleged “journalism“ that doesn’t see that and report it plainly.
…the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.
Check out his post for links to some of the journalists Fallows believes are reporting the real heart of the problem…I plan to do that tomorrow if the furlough begins and I find myself with extra time on my hands.