To be honest, I was caught off guard on Monday night. As I watched House Republicans shutter government for the first time in 17 years, I was in a state of shock. I simply couldn't believe that any group of adults, when tasked with the unbelievably serious task of governing a nation, could devolve into an echo chamber of such lunacy that pulling the rug out from underneath the federal government seemed like a good idea.
And yet, there I was, watching as the clock struck midnight and the GOP gleefully killed programs ranging from food assistance for poor mothers to funding for cancer trials for patients who literally have nowhere else to turn.
I certainly don't want to join the members of the press media giving a collective pass to House Republicans in an effort to pursue alleged "balance." Framing and spin from the right aside, there is simply no way to pin this one on Democrats.
That said, the true blame doesn't sit with the Tea Party, either. They're crazy. They've proven it time and again. They are the modern day equivalent of a coalition of Neros busily trying to tune their fiddles while the fires spread. No, the blame sits with the moderate Republicans too fearful of political repercussions to stand up to the bullies within their own party.
A handful of Tea Party Republicans in the House are preventing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) from bringing a clean continuing resolution (CR) up for a vote. They represent less than 10% of Congress and, buoyed by the theatrics of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have somehow managed to rip control of the House away from Boehner.
These hardliners, unfortunately, have nothing to fear electorally for their total disregard for rational governance. In an interview with The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, National Review reporter Robert Costa identified the real problem with forcing action. "When you get the members off the talking points you come to a simple conclusion: They don't face consequences for taking these hardline positions," said Costa. "The members get heat from the press but they don't get heat from back home."
While the gerrymandering that has led to the safety of veritable lunatics in Congress is an important issue worthy of its own time and discussion, it isn't something that can solve the current standoff.
The real enablers of this Tea Party rampage are the silent majority of more moderate Republicans that have been cowed into submission by threats of primary and purity inquisitions funded by outside dollars. Their silence and failure to unify and stand-up to the hostage takers within their own party is the single definitive cause of the government shutdown.
The Republican message is already winning. The media is glossing over the fact that the CR funds government at sequester levels, a budget number $220 billion below the president's budget request. That has been collectively accepted as the standard moving forward. Hell, the fact that I'm referring to people who believe that promoting a plan that allows people to purchase health insurance on the private market is socialism as "moderates" shows how far the dialogue has truly shifted. That re-framing is a huge political victory for the right and one that moderate Republicans in the House can own in standing up to the Tea Party. The desire to appease the Tea Party Gods by clamoring about the "socialism" of extending health care coverage to 40 million uninsured Americans has most of the GOP running scared and is enabling extremists to commandeer the conversation.
Thankfully, the immediate solution to this standoff is a simple one. Boehner needs to bring the Senate-passed clean CR funding government to a vote on the House floor. It will pass in a bipartisan fashion and it will re-open the government immediately. Moderate Republicans can claim victory by delivering on sequester-level funding and simultaneously remind the Tea Party that just because they don't face electoral consequences back home doesn't mean they get to hijack the democratic process in Washington.
It's time that the majority of House Republicans adopt the mantle of leadership they so desperately wish to exercise and set aside the spinelessness they've been acting on to call out the nut-baggery in the Republican party for what it is. Purported moderate Republican Peter King is fond of calling on Muslim leaders to denounce extremists within their community; wouldn't it be nice if he and the rest of his caucus held themselves to the same standard?
The lunatics of the Tea Party are officially running the GOP asylum and the rest of America is paying for it. Giving the GOP moderates in the House a pass on their cowardice is unacceptable. Boehner and company need to bring an end to this nonsense and give the clean CR a vote.