A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tea Party, House on ‘Cruz control’?

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 30, Oct. 1 or 2

Most motorists don’t drive sanely just because of the possibility of a ticket. We slow down at corners and curves, we speed up when prudent, and we abide by traffic signals because common-sense driving ensures we arrive at where we want, aren’t hurt, and don’t hurt others.

It is its own reward.

Like good government.

In contrast, then, bad government is careless driving under some influence or another, with bad brakes and no real regard for the casualties, destination or consequences at all.

So the latest Tea Party temper tantrum careens toward shutting down government, threatening no action on a budget, debt ceiling or the ongoing sequestration without authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, reforming the tax code to help corporations or – mostly – defunding health-care reform.

A shutdown would have government’s new Fiscal Year start this week without a budget, like embarking on a journey through unknown territory without a map. The Treasury Department will reach its borrowing limit in another couple of weeks. And not repealing sequestration could cost the country about 900,000 jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Tea Party-addled House already has passed 41 useless measures to repeal health-care reform and now is jeopardizing “the full faith and credit of the United States.”

It’s a fruitless, needless action according to many observers, who stare at the impending crash like wide-eyed commuters at a gapers block.

“It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community, or the American people, to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy,” said Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s top lobbyist – hardly someone at risk for being dubbed a “Republican In Name Only” by extremists.

The federal government’s fiscal condition is actually improving, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore, who recently wrote that “the biggest underreported story out of Washington this year is that the federal budget is shrinking – and much more than anyone in either party expected.”

The Affordable Care Act – most of which hasn’t even taken effect – is imperfect. By avoiding a “Medicare-for-all” or other public option, Congress largely deferred to medical providers and insurance companies that still will impose deductibles and co-pays on the insured. However, establishing premiums entitling previously uninsured Americans to be covered for a percentage of their care is more than they had before, and improvements can be made, just as with Medicare and Social Security.

Further, Congress passed the bill, President Obama signed it into law, the Supreme Court affirmed it and the President who shepherded it through was re-elected.

Americans see this “reckless driving.” According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 64% of the public says Republicans are doing too little to compromise with Democrats.

“To voters from the center right to the far left, the GOP is now defined by resistance, intolerance, intransigence and economics that would make even the robber barons blush,” said Erica Seifert of the independent, nonprofit Democracy Corps.

Of course, some in the GOP want to govern. Others – really, a tiny minority of the 535 Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill – are drama loons. At the root are 49 members of the House Tea Party Caucus, chaired by U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a few in the Senate such as Texas Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and hangers-on or timid types selfishly concerned about right-wing primary challengers.

The Republican Party is as divided as an eight-lane expressway.

“The very least we can expect from Congress is to stop making our economic problems worse,” said AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director William Samuel. “Congress should stop punishing our economy by insisting on the failed model of budget austerity that raises unemployment and depresses wages, it should end sequestration now, and it should stop holding our economy hostage to an unrealistic ideological agenda.”

But House Speaker John Boehner remains unwilling to stand up against the screaming – he refuses to let any legislation come to the House floor without support from “a majority of the majority,” and moneyed interests make campaign contributions and pay for lobbyists and more to guarantee elected officials who are at least beholden if not ideologically pure.

The best ending to extremists’ sexting-while-driving approach to governing might be for moderate Republicans to save the GOP from a multi-election wreck and vote with Democrats to avoid the total gridlock of a shutdown.

They should read the signs: Stop (the sequestration). Go (ahead and extend the debt ceiling). Speed limits (can guide a budget). And Yield (to health care reform that eventually could be as important as Medicare is to seniors).

[PICTURED: Photo from San Francisco's public broadcasting outfit, KQED.]

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