The dumbest people you know: This is what Government by Assholes looks like
“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is”—Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.)
“I think there’s a sense that for us to do a clean CR now—then what the hell was this about? So I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon”—Unnamed GOP representative
“Listen. We have to do this because of the Tea Party. If we don’t, these guys are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary”—U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee
“The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves”—U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), who has boasted that he will keep the government closed “as long as it takes” to repeal Obamacare, berating a park ranger for denying veterans access to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Service has been allowing veterans in, citing the First Amendment, even though under the shutdown all national parks are supposed to be closed
“House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has at his disposal the political tools to reopen the government at a moment’s notice. But he would have to rely on an uneasy coalition of Democrats and a few moderate Republicans to pass a bill to fund federal agencies and national parks for the next six weeks. … Boehner’s unyielding position on the six-week government funding bill, which the Senate passed, is a testament to the power of that conservative bloc and a concession to its members. … The speaker’s closest allies say he cannot afford to defy those on his right flank by ending the shutdown with largely Democratic votes”—Paul Kane, Washington Post
This is what Government by Assholes looks like—a chaotic jumble of inchoate demands and grievances and ransom threats and flailing and purity tests and circular firing squads, a political crisis that didn’t need to happen and for which there is an easy remedy, should the House Republican leadership choose to pursue it. Instead, House Republicans have become the dog that caught the car: They’ve forced the showdown with the president over the Affordable Care Act that their most frothing-at-the-mouth members have long desired, but now they’re starting to realize that they’ll lose—they’re being pummeled in public opinion polls and have no viable exit strategy. The Democrats, for once, have refused to bend, and the result is a GOP fraying at the seams.
Sure, House Republicans have little to fear from the fallout. Their gerrymandered districts leave them vulnerable only to challenges from the even-crazier right. But the national party’s brand is in tatters, and each day the government remains closed—and the debt ceiling deadline nears—the goal of reclaiming the Senate (and the presidency in 2016) became all the more unlikely.
At some point, like it or not, the Republicans will fold, their bluff having been called. The Tea Party crowd—the folks at Breitbart and RedState and Fox News, and the more, um, colorful members of the House caucus (e.g., him and him and him and her)—will holler like hell, but in the end their fecklessness and impotence will be exposed for all the world to see.
They picked a fight they can’t win. Or, rather, it’s a fight they’ve already won—the White House and Senate Democrats have agreed to fund the government at the sequester levels the Republicans have demanded—but they’re too goddamn pigheaded to recognize it. (Although some House GOP members are insisting that any increase in the debt ceiling come with even more spending cuts attached, Boehner has already told Republicans that he will pass a debt ceiling hike with Democrats if necessary, which is good, because not doing so would be catastrophic.)
I confess to a certain amount of schadenfreude watching these assholes implode in real time. Of course it would be much more enjoyable were the consequences of this immolation not so appalling, especially for poor people. While Republicans have been fixated on, for instance, the World War II Memorial closing—Rep. Darrell Issa is already threatening hearings into why the Parks Service closed the monument during the shutdown, though the answer seems kinda obvious to me—they can’t be bothered to say a word about the 5,000 kids who no longer have access to Head Start, including at least 378 in Florida; or Meals on Wheels programs, which could soon run out of money; or the federal funds that have been yanked from the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), whose reserves will run dry by the end of the month.
Bill Kristol—who for reasons I can’t quite comprehend is still considered a Republican thought leader—has said the defunding of WIC is not “the end of the world,” and what’s the big deal? Nobody will starve. (At least nobody he knows, and that’s all that really matters to assholes.) Orange County has more than 34,000 people who collectively receive $28 million in benefits from WIC annually. The state of Florida, as of 2012, had nearly 500,000 people who rely on WIC—funding that amounts to about $376 million every year.
Once the feds’ money evaporates—probably about a week—the state will have to figure out how to pay for it. If it wants to, that is.
And all this, for what?
Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, of course, because something something socialism something something big government something something freedom. They just don’t have the votes to do it—not in any legitimate way. Not in the way Democrats passed the bill: Getting it through the House of Representatives, defeating a filibuster in the Senate, garnering the president’s signature, obtaining the approval of the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a second presidential election in which this law’s repeal was the No. 1 topic of debate.
They can—and have—repealed it time after time in the House, where Republicans hold a slim majority despite receiving 1.2 million fewer votes than congressional Democrats last year. But the Republicans—at this point largely a southern rump party—don’t have the juice to win a presidential election or gain enough Senate seats to claim a majority, let alone overcome a filibuster. And so they’ve sabotaged the government to get their way, harming not just the 800,000 or so federal workers who’ve been furloughed and the federal capital whose economy relies on them, but also the millions of people—many poor or disadvantaged women and children—who depend on government services for sustenance. Just to make a point. And right now, they’re not even sure what that point is.
Here’s a fun thought: Issa, the same asshole who is now wondering why national parks are closing during a federal shutdown, has started trying to piece together a replacement for Obamacare that would guarantee access to affordable coverage. As it turns out, for all the noise and fury of the last three years, Issa’s “replacement” looks a lot like, well, Obamacare. There are only a few ways to skin this cat, after all, and if single-payer isn’t an option, an exchange with some degree of guaranteed coverage—which is what Obamacare is, more or less—is the only way to go.
Here’s a less fun thought: Although the Supreme Court upheld the ACA last year, it struck down the provision effectively requiring states to adopt the law’s new Medicaid expansion. Twenty-six states—including Florida, of course—have subsequently declined billions of federal Medicaid dollars. The result, as reported this morning by the New York Times:
Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.
Those excluded will be stranded without insurance, stuck between people with slightly higher incomes who will qualify for federal subsidies on the new health exchanges that went live this week, and those who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in its current form, which has income ceilings as low as $11 a day in some states.
To repeat, the feds are willing to pick up the entire tab for three years, and 90 percent thereafter. And yet Florida—and 25 other states—is saying no to $51 billion in federal money over the 10 years. Why? Politics, mostly.
But [Florida House Speaker Will] Weatherford, 33, plainly sees his opposition to the Medicaid expansion as a legacy issue from his speakership and one that will be warmly received by conservatives should he seek statewide office in the future. …
Railing against what he called “cartel federalism,” Weatherford said states must resist the temptation of seemingly free federal dollars.
“States are being lured, and I would argue coerced, into expanding programs like Medicaid and passing regulations not through federal mandate but with the promise of free money,” he said. “They’re trying to buy us off, one by one.”
To applause, he declared: “But I am not buying it, Florida will not buy it and America should not buy it.”
To translate: Something something freedom. Oh, and piss off, poor people.
This is what Government by Assholes looks like, both in Tallahassee and Washington.