The New York Times published a helpful chart the other day, which highlighted a nine-step process Congress would have to follow this week to avoid a government shutdown. As it happens, steps one through eight were completed with relative ease.
It was that ninth step that gave lawmakers trouble.
House Republicans not only gathered on a weekend to take a vote that moves the government even closer to a shutdown, they did it in the dead of night.The Republican-controlled House voted around midnight on Saturday to keep the government open for a few more months in exchange for punting the rollout of Obamacare for a year -- the kind of shot at the health care law conservatives had wanted for weeks, even if it's sure to be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
By all appearances, House Republicans are now actively seeking a government shutdown, specifically aiming for their goal rather than making any effort to avoid it. Indeed, the unhinged House majority appears to have gone out of its way to craft a spending bill designed to fail.
The bill approved after midnight would deny health care benefits to millions of American families for a year, add to the deficit by repealing a medical-device tax industry lobbyists urged Republicans to scrap, and in a fascinating twist, make it harder for Americans to get birth control. As the New York Times report noted, "The delay included a provision favored by social conservatives that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage."
Yes, in the midst of a budget crisis, the House GOP decided it was time to go after birth control again. Wow.
Senate leaders and the White House patiently tried to explain to radicalized House Republicans that voting for this would all but guarantee a government shutdown -- so House Republicans voted for it en masse.
In fact, take a look at the roll call. Jonathan Bernstein asked on Friday, "Where are the sane House Republicans?" That question was answered quite clearly last night: literally every GOP lawmaker in the chamber voted for their government-shutdown plan. There were zero defections.
This was not, in other words, an isolated tantrum thrown by an extremist faction of a once-great political party. This was rather an organized tantrum thrown by the entirety of the House Republican caucus.
Keep in mind, I use the word "tantrum" largely because Republicans told me to. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in July, "Shutting down the government to get your way over an unrelated piece of legislation is the political equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum. It is just not helpful."
Last night, Cole linked arms with his fellow conservatives and joined them as they jumped off the cliff together. Apparently, he discovered his affinity for tantrums over the last couple of months.
Also note, we know with certainty Speaker Boehner didn't want this scenario. It was just earlier this month that he presented a proposal that would have avoided all of this, precisely because he didn't want to end up where we are now. But the Speaker, who has little influence or control over what happens in his own chamber, simply lacked the courage and the strength to govern responsibly.
What happens now is less clear. The Senate could reconvene today, reject the House bill, and urge House Republicans to act like grown-ups tomorrow -- the last day before Monday night's shutdown deadline. Or more likely, the upper chamber will gather in the morning, try to pass the same bill senators passed on Friday, and leave the House with just hours to keep the government's lights on.
Either way, House Republicans continue to fail at completing even the most basic of tasks. The public doesn't expect much of Congress anymore, but most seem to believe lawmakers should be able to keep the government's doors open.
As things stand, that now appears unlikely.