This Shutdown Is About Extortion, Not Stalemates

Those following or reporting on the U.S. government shutdown should refrain from using terms like "impasse" or "stalemate." These words imply two honest parties negotiating in good faith have arrived at a temporary but surmountable deadlock. That's not even remotely the case here.

Instead, two parties--the Senate Democrats and the House Republicans -- each passed divergent budgets earlier this year. The latter, propelled by a very small yet ideologically rigid minority of its members, made the calculated decision from the start not to negotiate.

Democrats made 18 requests since April to go to conference and compromise on a budget bill; Republicans blocked every single one of them. And now they are using a manufactured crisis to extract policy concessions on duly passed legislation they don't like and cannot repeal through the normal democratic processes: elections, legislative votes, and litigation.

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to insist they're doing the will of the American people despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While a plurality or small majority of Americans remain confused about or opposed to the Affordable Care Act, a strong majority want a budget approved without conditions to repeal, defund, or delay it -- mainly because they see the law as a settled issue.

And so it is. Republicans lost this fight repeatedly:

  • in the 2008 election in which this was a primary issue;
  • in a year-long debate in the halls of congress, media, and the public square, after which the law was passed by both chambers of congress and signed by the president;
  • in the Supreme Court--the final arbiter of the constitutionality of a law;
  • in the 2012 presidential election, which 2/3rds of Americans now see as a referendum on Obamacare;
  • in the 2012 congressional election, in which the GOP failed to take the Senate, lost seats in the House, and lost the popular vote in that chamber by more than 1,000,000 votes;
  • in the 46 House votes to repeal, defund, or delay Obamacare that were dead on arrival in the Senate and had no chance of becoming law.

Most curiously, Republicans now have the votes to end the shutdown immediately by putting a clean resolution on the House floor with no riders or conditions. Such a bill certainly would pass, and 800,000 Americans could return to work tomorrow, but Boehner doesn't do it.

The evidence suggests the GOP intentionally put these workers out of a job by using a historically routine budget resolution to undo the outcome of three lost elections. And they now have the hubris to demand Senate Democrats and President Obama negotiate with that extremist position. As Republicans continually shift the political goal posts ever further to the hard right, negotiating now requires meeting them somewhere between extreme and preposterously irrational. Democrats justifiably have declined to do so here.

This is not an "impasse" or a "stalemate." It's an attempt at extortion that was prevented.