— The recent federal government shutdown showed that House Republicans, the motherlode of serial lunacy in American politics today, have learned little to nothing from history (especially the 1995-96 shutdowns), the 2012 election, and opinion polling. The 2013 shutdown was the predictable outcome of virtually the entire Republican Party’s downward spiral into extremism (1) and refusal to both compromise and accept factual reality.
House Republicans’ behavior in trying to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was extortion, pure and simple. Driven by the tea party’s demands for wide-ranging, scorched-earth war on government, the congressional Republican extortion caucus (goaded on by tea party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex), insisted it would only fund government agencies if both the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama agreed to zero-budget ACA.
Topping this, in mid-October, House Republicans unleashed the mother of all extortion campaigns – risking plunging the federal government into unprecedented default on its financial obligations, with severe damage to U.S. and global financial markets and the nation’s creditworthiness. In exchange for not crashing the U.S. and global economies, House Republicans demanded Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate capitulate to a dizzying radical-right wish list: Zero-budgeting ACA, wide-ranging voter-suppression laws, more tax cuts for the rich, Draconian cuts to food stamps and other social programs, approval of the Keystone oil pipeline and more.
Extortion is new in partisan conflict: Democrats never used it to block Reagan’s tax cuts and budget in 1981, scuttle tax reform in 1986, or defund Bush’s Iraq fiasco in 2007-08. It also lies completely outside acceptable boundaries of political conflict. Republicans justified their behavior because Obama supposedly “wouldn’t compromise” with Republicans’ crusade to ensure 25 million Americans just suck it up and remain uninsured.
House Republicans could not have expected Obama to surrender to extortion. As Obama said, “They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The full faith and credit of the United States is not a bargaining chip.” (2)