Bill Whitaker: Shutdown is result of our era of scorched-earth politics


by Bill Whitaker

Source: Waco Tribune

Much attention at Bill Flores' town-hall meeting in Waco last month focused on two dozen or so very vocal residents - some in green shirts reading "Do something now!" - pressing the congressman on immigration reform. But there was another segment of the crowd, less vocal, less organized, but very obviously smoldering in their chairs, who made it clear to Flores that the U.S. House of Representatives should defund the Affordable Care Act in any continuing budget resolution - yes, even at the risk of shutting down the government.

In recent days they have gotten their wish.

Although Flores said he could not be a party to anything that would shut the federal government down - he specifically cited the threat to Social Security checks and military pay at the time - he nonetheless wound up being a party to the shutdown by voting for a continuing resolution defunding the Affordable Care Act - an obvious no-go with Senate Democrats. It was his right as a congressman. It was the right of the House of Representatives. And it was the right of the Senate to repeatedly refuse terms that in any way harmed what the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed a constitutional law, no matter how flawed.

So who's truly at fault for this partial shutdown? Maybe we are. The greatest nation on Earth is paralyzed this week because Americans seem to hate one another more than the many enemies who crave our destruction. You can see it in the letters to the editor and online commenting on this topic and others. Well, our enemies need not worry. Some of our leaders even now busily sow more seeds of disunion and political demagoguery. And through our actions in the voting booth, our rhetoric, our casual character assassination (including ridiculing of more than 800,000 government employees now on furlough) and our rush to embrace half-truths and lies, we demonstrate no sympathy for anyone's views but our own.

Some of us would like to throw all the rascals out of power but we can't. Our congressional districts are so carefully gerrymandered for political advantage in Texas that we no longer get a real choice in elections anymore. And those who wanted to toss President Obama out of office in 2012 for ineffectual leadership failed because the Republican Party was damaged goods by the time many months of bruising primaries were done. In the end, Mitt Romney had to answer for absurd remarks made during the primary season while trying to get to the right of GOP rivals. Oops.

Such remarks don't play well in the American mainstream: Anyone recall Romney's suggestion that illegal immigrants "self-deport" themselves? Those immigration activists at Flores' town-hall meeting sure hadn't.

Even now Republicans prefer to focus on the Affordable Care Act rather than the present shutdown. They're right about one thing - the ACA is a mess of a law, nowhere near ready for prime time. Democrats know it too. The irony of the government shutting down the same day that the ACA health care exchanges went live isn't lost on anyone - nor is the fact the online exchanges suffered crashes and glitches in their grand debut.

But any Republicans putting their country first would have been reaching across the aisle to actually fix this mess; instead, many put party over country by repeatedly voting to repeal it, only for the Democratic-run Senate to repeatedly dismiss the notion. You'd think after 40 or so votes to repeal all or part of Obamacare they'd try something new.

Last summer the McLennan County Republican Club tapped Waco-born John C. Goodman, president and CEO of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, author of the book "Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis" and a vocal critic of the ACA, to discuss how health care can be fixed. His plan (which is outlined in a Q&A at wacotrib.com/opinion) bolstered a worthy proposal that would allow every American to use tax credits to buy health insurance - or else suffer some stiff consequences in taxes. One could then supplement basic coverage with after-tax dollars.

Local Republicans responded warmly to Goodman's ideas. Yet ideas such as his rarely get far. That's because our culture delights more in sparring than solutions. That's because our leaders would rather score political points, not do what's right for the nation and its people. That's because we live in an era where compromise is a dirty word.

Well, for those who see no wrong in the House's confrontational shenanigans, consider a hypothetical scenario where the Senate refuses to pass any budget resolution unless its very own immigration bill is attached. I can hear the howls of indignation now.