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Robert Reich: Incapable of Governing

September 23, 2013

Why the upcoming shutdowns and defaults are symptoms of a deeper Republican malady.

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Image from Flickr via Gage Skidmore

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

Congressional Republicans have gone directly from conservatism to fanaticism without any intervening period of sanity.

First, John Boehner, bowing to Republican extremists, ushers a bill through the House that continues to fund the government after September 30 but doesn’t fund the Affordable Care Act. Anyone with half a brain knows Senate Democrats and the President won’t accept this—which means, if House Republicans stick to their guns, a government shut-down.

A shutdown would be crippling. Soldiers would get IOUs instead of paychecks. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees would be furloughed without pay. National parks would close. Millions of Americans would feel the effects.

And who will get blamed?

House Republicans think the public hates the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) so much they’ll support their tactics. But the fact is, regardless of Americans’ attitudes toward that Act—which, not incidentally, passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by the President, who was re-elected with over 50 percent of the vote, and constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court—Americans hate even more one party using the United States government as a pawn in their power games.

The Republican Party is now a fanatical group run out of right-wing states by a cadre of nihilists and billionaires.

According to a recent CNN poll, 51 percent of Americans say they’d blame the Republicans for a shutdown; 33 percent would blame the President. They blamed Republicans for the last shutdown at the end of 1995 and start of 1996—contributing to Republican losses of seven out of eleven gubernatorial races in 1996, fifty-three state legislative seats, three House seats, and the presidency.

So what are Senate Republicans doing about this impending train wreck for the country and the GOP?

Senator Ted Cruz is now trying to round up forty Senate Republicans to vote against—not for, but against—the House bill when it comes to the Senate floor next week. Why? Because Cruz and company don’t want the Senate to enact any funding bill at all. That’s because once any bill is enacted, Senate Democrats can then amend it with only fifty-one votes—striking out the measure that de-funds Obamacare, and even possibly increasing funds in the continuing resolution to keep the government running.

So if Ted Cruz gets his way and the Senate doesn’t vote out any funding bill at all, what happens? The government runs out of money September 30. That spells shutdown.

The only difference between the Cruz and Boehner scenarios is that under Boehner we get a government shutdown and the public blames the GOP. Under Cruz, we get a shutdown and the public blames the GOP even more, because Republicans wouldn’t even allow a spending bill to come to the Senate floor.
In truth, the fanatics now calling the shots in the Republican Party don’t really care what the public thinks because they’re too busy worrying about even more extremist right-wing challengers in their next primary—courtesy of gerrymandering by Republican state legislators, and big-spending right-wing gonzo groups like the Club for Growth.

The Republican Party is no longer capable of governing the nation. It’s now a fanatical group run out of right-wing states by a cadre of nihilists, know-nothings, and a handful of billionaires.

But America needs two parties both capable of governing the nation. We cannot do with just one. The upcoming shutdowns and possible defaults are just symptoms of this deeper malady.

Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future and The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. His latest, Beyond Outrage: Expanded Edition: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it, is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” will be out September 27.

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