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Harrop: What America needs: Defeat of budget games

Published: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Note how tea party politicians routinely start their remarks with “The American people want.” And what “the American people want” conveniently coincides with their ideological preferences.

It would seem that the American people – meaning a massive majority – don’t want this government shutdown. So scrambling Republicans have come up with “modest” and “common-sense” proposals to end the impasse:

We can keep the national parks open, they are offering. Also the Department of Veterans Affairs. Let’s just yank the tax on medical devices out of the Affordable Care Act or the requirement for contraception coverage. Simply delay the individual mandate. That’s all we ask, and we’ll reopen the government.

What about the panda cam? They forgot the panda cam. The American people love watching Mei Xiang licking her adorable cub at the National Zoo. No government, no panda cam.

You see where this is going. And that is why America’s leaders, Democrats and sane Republicans, must drive a stake in the heart of the idea that you can close down the government – and threaten economic meltdown by playing games with the debt ceiling – to win political concessions.

Nothing the tea party people demand can’t be had through the normal political process. It happens that a duly elected House and Senate passed Obamacare. And when asked, the U.S. Supreme Court said it’s cool with it.

But if “the American people do not want Obamacare,” to quote Rep. Jim Bridenstine and other Republican radicals, they don’t have to have Obamacare. They can vote more right-wingers into office and do away with it.

As the public grows ever testier over the shutdown, tea party extremists bleat more loudly about their “modest” and “common-sense” ideas for restarting the government. Here’s an analogy:

Guy opens a restaurant. Mobster barges in demanding $10 a week or the place burns down. Owner says no. Mobster responds in wounded tone, “But $10 is such a modest request.”

The more modest the Republican demands, the nuttier they sound. Pious posturing does not alter the fact that we’re viewing an extortion racket.

Only unconditional defeat of this tactic can save the principle that you don’t shut down government to get this or that concession. Obama made a serious mistake by negotiating during past trumped-up crises. He’s been strong so far.

Here’s a happy ending: Republican House Speaker John Boehner does what he should have long ago, sends a spending measure to the House to keep government going. It passes with Democratic and pragmatist Republican votes.

Party hotheads may well respond by stripping Boehner of his speakership. Boehner can frame his action as a personal sacrifice, a patriotic act to stop the shutdown’s mounting damage – to the economy and to America’s reputation as a serious power.

Republicans appalled by these antics can regroup and work to cut down the tea party coalition’s power and size come the next election. They’ve got to take the car keys away. Either that or Republicans will crash in districts with sophisticated electorates.

As for the little tea party tyrants, they go on. Defeat is never a problem for them. They can return home blaming their loss on betrayal by “moderate” Republicans. They are martyrs, you see.

But by the 2014 elections, the welcome reality of Obamacare will have sunk in, and even these folks probably won’t fight it. They’ll come up with new self-serving claims about “what the American people want.”

What Americans need right now is an abject defeat of the idea that government shutdowns offer a respectable forum for negotiations. Pray that Obama stands firm on this.

• Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence Journal editorial board. Follow her on Twitter @fromaharrop.

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