Apocalypse now in the hapless House
To borrow a quotation from Harry Truman, the House Republicans are so incompetent, they wouldn't know how "to pound sand in a rat hole."
What a pathetic spectacle they staged yesterday — not that anyone was surprised. There we were, teetering on the edge of a financial meltdown (thanks to the zealots), and it was the House Republicans' responsibility to step up and govern, to either accept the contours of the bipartisan Senate deal or vote on their own version of a deal. But sure enough, after another long day of dysfunction, they couldn't even agree on a version — because the zealots wouldn't budge on their obsession with Obamacare, and the "reasonable" Republicans (as always) quaked in fear.
I had to laugh when I heard that their morning meeting began with the communal singing of "Amazing Grace." You know the lyrics — I once was lost, but now am found. Oh please. If these people were given anatomical maps of the human body, they still wouldn't be able to find their own butts.
Pardon my tone of disgust. I truly dislike writing about this stuff 14 days in a row. But it's impossible to avert one's eyes from a car crash, especially when we're the ones getting sideswiped. Financially, we're on the brink of apocalypse now — yet this hapless House gang still insists on staying in character.
It was bad enough not long ago when the gang couldn't get its act together to vote on a fiscal cliff deal, to vote for Hurricane Sandy relief, to vote for a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, or to even pass a farm bill. Indeed, when the farm bill went down in June, the nonpartisan Roll Call news site presciently said that John Boehner's failure to marshal his own troops "set off a poisonous round of partisan finger-pointing that raised questions about the ability of the chamber to craft bipartisan deals." But yesterday we saw the apotheosis of failure.
There's no need to replay the details. Suffice it to say that the House GOP's bright idea, for much of the day, was a provision (previously ditched, now dusted off) that would've forced all congressional staffers to buy health coverage in the new Obamacare exchanges, without any financial help from their government employer. The other bright idea was to fund the government only until Dec. 15, so that we could all experience a new round of brinksmanship on the eve of the holidays. (The holidays? Are these people determined to shrink the party's abysmal poll rating to zero?)
Anyway, the climax came at around 5 p.m., when Jim DeMint's right-wing Heritage Action decreed that whatever the House Republicans were doing, it wasn't good enough for Heritage Action. Having received their marching orders, the House Republicans threw up their hands and were on the way home by 7. As one House GOP member told reporter Robert Costa of the National Review, the situation was "depressing ... everyone needs a drink." As one House GOP aide told Time magazine, "This is a cluster f—."
No kidding, pal. But this is also the natural result of the pernicious forces that have soiled our politics. As Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert for the past four decades at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, pointed out the other day, the Republican party's "problem solvers" have been placed "in a really, really sticky situation," thanks to the muscle of absolutist groups like Heritage Action, "the leverage of social media, the talk radio hosts" — all of which act as "an electoral magnet that pulls [the problem solvers] away from voting for anything that might have a patina of bipartisan support."
And how tragic for us. When the government doesn't function, thanks to a radical rump minority in one branch that doesn't believe in governance, we're the ones who ultimately lose. Because the rump's implicit message to us is: "We're going to imperil your personal finances, threaten America's credit rating, and roil the global markets, unless we can stop uninsured Americans from getting health care."
But the good news — wait, there's good news? — is that the latest episode of House inertia could pave the way for a Senate-driven deal. Now that the children have sung their communal hymn (...Was blind, but now I see...) and trashed the playpen one last time, the grownups in the upper chamber could still work the narrow time window and cut a deal. Then Boehner could take that deal — reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling — and do what he has needed to do all along: Pass it, with virtually all Democrats and a few dozen rational Republicans.
As Harry Truman said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."
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