I know. You've seen this movie before. But even as a remake (the last release was 2011), it continues to surprise. The next several weeks will be a study in how to execute a self-inflicted wound on the nation's still fragile economy (nay, the world's economy if act II unfolds as intended by the House Republicans).
Here's act I: The House Republicans declared last Friday, Sept. 20, that they would extort the White House and the Senate to get what they want — the defunding or repeal of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).
So for the sake of this sequel let's assume that Obamacare is a person, often referred to by pundits and the Democrats as the Hostage.
Briefly, Obamacare simply wants to extend to as many people as possible affordable healthcare. The Act has eliminated the awful reality of the uninsured getting up each morning, hoping that on that given day the odds that they and their families are playing will not turn against them. As well, those with pre-existing conditions will no longer face the unyielding fact that they are excluded from getting health insurance. And the fear of crippling bankruptcy, due to a catastrophic health event, will be eliminated as will the cap on policies that in the past, if exceeded, could result in the cancellation of insurance premiums. Plus emergency rooms will no longer serve as the primary source of care (too often delayed) for millions of uninsured.
Nevertheless, for reasons that are beyond comprehension, the House Republicans are intent on wrecking the Affordable Care Act, while offering nothing in its place.
As irrational — some say darkly Quixotic — as their quest seems, that is where they are headed. And here is what further baffles: though they have taken ACA hostage, their threat isn't that if the White House and Dems fail to do their bidding that they will shoot the hostage. What they've done instead is sent a bizarrely convoluted ransom note to the White House and the Democrats with the demand is that the Dems shoot the hostage, meaning ACA. And failing to do so, these same House conservatives will set in motion a series of reprisals. Surreal to be sure, but truly, you can't make this stuff up.
Here is how what the House Republicans have constructed will unfold: the House has already passed a spending bill that will pay to keep America running until mid-December. The bill will be sent to the Senate for passage. Embedded in that bill, however, is the repeal/defunding of Obamacare. The House has given the Senate until Oct. 1 to agree to the bill as written. The Senate will strip the bill of the defunding of Obamacare (they refuse to shoot the hostage), and, thus amended, it will be sent back to the House where House Republicans will reject the bill.
Now we are at a crossroads. The Tea Party-driven House will not compromise. Hence, no spending bill will be passed and the shutdown of the government will commence Oct. 1. All federal operations will either stop or be hobbled. Close to a million federal workers could be furloughed, national parks and monuments closed, soldiers, while reporting for duty, will not be paid. And so on.
Now for act II of this Kabuki dance: as further incentive for the Democrats to shoot the hostage, the House Republicans have threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling in mid-October if their original demands are not met. Granted, the Republican spin has always been that raising the debt ceiling means we are agreeing to spend more money in the future, thereby increasing the national debt. That is, however, blatantly false. We raise the debt ceiling in order to borrow enough money to pay for bills that Congress has already incurred. We've already bought the goods. The problem is that our representatives, to include the conservatives in the House, have spent more than the government is taking in so they have no choice but to raise the ceiling, allowing the government to borrow more in order to pay the bills already incurred.
The Republicans know this. They also know the extent of the damage that will result to the nation's good credit and world standing if we default. Nevertheless, they are using raising the debt ceiling as leverage. Repeal Obamacare and reduce spending further or we will let the economic chaos ensue.
This is not bargaining in good faith. It is not good governance, nor is it the art of compromise (which is the definition of democracy); rather, it is legislation by extortion and it's outrageous and potentially ruinous to our nation. But it is also, apparently, the new normal for the Republican Party. Such as it is.
Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.