By RAY KOLLS
For the writer of an occasional column on legislative incompetence, the past several weeks have supplied ample material. The lamentable state of our national politics has resulted in a government shutdown. Normally this would amount to nothing more than public inconvenience and – like most previous government shutdowns – little more than a historical footnote. But this shutdown is different.
In this case, the tactics being used by a small group of Republican House members create a dangerous precedent for our form of government and push the limits of our constitutional system in a way that might be to our lasting disadvantage as a nation.
The government is on hiatus because the House of Representatives will not agree to a so-called “clean resolution,” which is a bill authorizing continued government funding. The Constitution places the responsibility for funding the government on Congress. Accordingly, the House of Representatives can, as it has in this case, refuse to fund the government if it so chooses.
Of course, in a democracy, power is ordinarily given only to those who exercise it prudently and moderately. The role of government is to avoid and not create disaster. That is not the case in today’s House of Representatives. This House has concocted a new tactic which, instead, threatens no less than the basis of our democracy.
The House, led not by its speaker, but rather by approximately 40 rigidly ideological members, seeks to use the House’s appropriations power to overturn a specific law by refusing to fund it. That law, of course, is the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
Here is the problem: Addressing the health care issue was one of the principal promises made by then candidate Obama when he ran for president. He was duly elected and took office. Obamacare was passed by the House, passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President. It was challenged in the Supreme Court and upheld. There was in intervening presidential election in which the continued viability of Obamacare was a central issue and the President was duly re-elected, indeed, handily re-elected.
Ordinarily, this would be the end of it, and Republicans would focus on doing what is traditionally done in our system – they would refine their message and go win elections. They have done this before. They did so, for example, after President Clinton handed them their political heads in the wake of – that’s right – the last Republican-inspired government shutdown.
However, this will not do for today’s Republican controlled House. Instead, the group of hard right Republican House members – secure in their gerrymandered districts and backed by private political money – seeks to use the legislative process to “defund,” in other words to negate, a duly enacted law.
Such a tactic threatens chaos and undercuts the normal operation of the federal government. If this tactic succeeds, then what happens? Do Republicans think that Democrats will simply forget this?
Some day, the political shoe will be on the other foot. Some day, a Republican President will pass a cherished piece of legislation, for example, perhaps even repealing Obamacare. Should the Democrats then refuse to fund the government unless the funding resolution contains language re-instating Obamacare? If so, they will have all the rhetoric they need and will claim that they “only want to negotiate” and that they “are only standing up for the American people.”
The list of potential evils goes on. Suppose the Democrats blink on this, and there is a continuing resolution that contains language defunding Obamacare. The law is defunded, but still on the books; not repealed. What does that mean? What happens to the health care system? How should businesses or individuals plan? What happens to the economy?
If this were to become a pattern, then our government grinds to a halt. Our democratic system becomes hostage to ultra-minorities with no hope of prevailing in national elections. A law gets passed using the machinery the Founders put in place for us and then – when it pleases the unelectable minority of the day – it gets “defunded” or the government does not get funded.
Short or long-term, this is a disaster. Our government cannot work this way. We deserve better. No President should put up with it, whether the current occupant of the office or, if the tables were turned, a Republican President.
In this case, however, the authors of this tactic are the ideological, hard-right Republicans. Ideologues of the left or the right have always been incompatible with democratic government. They are so convinced of the rightness of their position that anything becomes possible. The best thing that could happen as a result of this political theater would be for the ideologues to be exposed for what they are – people who are more interested in the triumph of their ideology than the best interests of the Country.
Ray Kolls is a Davidson resident. He was trained as a lawyer and is a partner in an international consulting firm. See his previous DavidsonNews.net columns here.
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