Having been abandoned by Ted Cruz after they stuck their neck out to hold the operations of the government hostage in order to try to defund the Affordable Care Act (and having badly lost that battle), the House Republicans and their stunningly inept Speaker have a new approach: piecemeal funding of popular parts of the government. They truly believe that it would be a great political maneuver to put Democrats on the defensive to just fund the NIH, the Veterans Administration, etc.
In reality, this is a dumb political strategy as well as bad public policy. Senate Democrats and President Obama have - as expected - rejected
this approach of cherrypicking which parts of government to fund.
The politics of this are disastrous for the Republicans. Far from being a shining example of tactical genius, this smacks of desperation. A move to keep only politically popular parts of the government open not only comes off as crass and brazen, it also telegraphs an implicit admission on the part of the Republicans that they know that the public (rightly) hold them responsible for the shutdown.
One reason this approach isn't working for the Republicans is that it's not a new approach. It's a slightly altered version of the movie that just preceded it.
In the previous version, Republicans wanted to pick and choose which laws could be funded by trying to defund the Affordable Care Act. The American people rejected that approach overwhelmingly, by a 50-point margin
This new act of piecemeal funding is from the same playbook - Republicans wanting to pick and choose which agencies of government to fund. And they have made no secret of the fact that it too is politically motivated to try to punish federal agencies
out of favor with their party:
“We’re going to start picking off those priorities that are important,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), as lawmakers prepared to vote to reopen the national parks and services for veterans. “The IRS was last on the list. The EPA was right above it.”
Because, you know, who needs clean water? Or the people who collect the taxes that ensure funding for the VA and Social Security checks to keep going out? Who needs'em?
Again, this shows the American people that Republicans are only interested extracting through extortion what they couldn't win through an election (elimination of certain federal agencies). Just like their approach on Obamacare.
What's more, the Republicans are publicly proving that their "principled" commitment to defunding and delaying Obamacare is nothing more than showboating. After all, if they really believed government funding to be leverage against their plan to cripple the Affordable Care Act, why willingly reduce that leverage?
But the piecemeal approach, despite being a craven political move, does have policy implications. Cherrypicking federal agencies to fund isn't just bad optics; it's terrible policy. For one thing, a Congressional minority doesn't get to dictate what will and will not be funded - that is a terrible way to make policy. But even more importantly, the reason it's bad policy to do piecemeal funding is that federal agencies are interdependent, and you cannot kneecap significant parts of it and give life support to a select few other parts.
What am I talking about? Take the parts of the government Republicans are proposing to fund in their piecemeal approach
- H.J.Res.70, Open Our National Parks and Museums Act
- H.J.Res.71, Provide Local Funding the District of Columbia Act
- H.J.Res.72, Honoring Our Promise to America’s Veterans Act
- H.J.Res.73, Research for Lifesaving Cures Act and
- H.R.3230, Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act.
But they are not funding, as we just read above, the EPA or the IRS. Presumably, also not the FDA. No way, no how.
- If we open our parks, who monitors the air and water quality in the national parks to make sure a waterfall isn't being contaminated by some nearby industrial waste if the EPA is left in shutdown mode?
- Just what is DC funding supposed to do when the people in charge in DC have no intention of working?
- It's lovely that we're going to fund the veterans' pensions, and the payments to our guards and reserves, but without the IRS, just who is going to collect the taxes necessary to pay those benefits?
- Funding the NIH and medical research is noble, but just what on God's green earth are the researchers supposed to do with their products when the FDA is crippled in its ability to approve new drugs and procedures? And what of the diminished ability of the FDA to inspect potentially unsafe products already in the market?
In fact, every popular part of government has a necessary-but-not-so-popular support structure, without which the popular parts will collapse. You cannot pay VA benefits (or Social Security benefits, or Medicare payments, or any other popular benefits, for that matter) if the IRS doesn't collect taxes. You cannot guarantee that our national parks will be safe to enjoy without the EPA. You cannot bring medical breakthroughs to the people without the watchful eyes of the FDA to make sure the products are safe to use. It doesn't do much good to fund security forces if intelligence agencies that alert let security forces know what to be ready for are handicapped.
All of this doesn't even touch other essential support and services the Republicans have no intention of providing. Funding for nutritional support for children and families, for head start, and an array of other services cannot be left withering on the vine. If we want to say that we support our soldiers and our veterans, we must honor them by making sure that no child goes hungry in the country they fought for.
This is not a game. Republicans must drop the charade and fund the government - the entire
government. If they don't like certain agencies and certain programs and certain laws and want to get rid of them, fine. They should try doing it the right way - you know, through elections. But they cannot backdoor a Christmas tree full of wishlist goodies by holding government funding or America's full faith and credit hostage. A fringe minority on the far Right will not be allowed to hold a gun to the rest of government.
Politically, this is a problem of the House GOP having jumped off the cliff and searching for a way out wihout looking like complete fools. Well, I suggest it's a little late for that. The Speaker should cut his losses, fund the government, raise the debt limit, and end the hostage crisis his party began. After that,
as the president has always made clear
, Democrats will be happy to negotiate on a budget and a grand bargain.