Many Americans are probably waking up this morning to some unsettling news: congressional Republicans shut down the federal government last night, the first time since congressional Republicans did the same thing 17 years ago. And I imagine Americans who don't follow day-to-day developments in Washington will ask a simple question: "Why?"
The good news is, it's a surprisingly easy question to answer. The bad news is, the answer is wholly unsatisfying.
Kevin Drum had an item last week that summarized the entire political dynamic in just 92 words.
The Republican Party is bending its entire will, staking its very soul, fighting to its last breath, in service of a crusade to....Make sure that the working poor don't have access to affordable health care. I just thought I'd mention that in plain language, since it seems to get lost in the fog fairly often. But that's it. That's what's happening. They have been driven mad by the thought that rich people will see their taxes go up slightly in order to help non-rich people get decent access to medical care.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but it's entirely accurate. Ezra Klein added yesterday, before the clock struck midnight, "This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That's it. That's why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt."
At a certain level, this probably seems insane -- and there's an excellent reason for that. Shutdowns over spending levels or taxes are probably easier to grasp, but GOP lawmakers, after being rebuked by the American electorate, have decided to throw an extraordinary and dangerous tantrum over a moderate health care reform law that mirrors a policy enacted by the most recent Republican presidential nominee and adheres to a policy blueprint drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
It's this centrist law that has, for reasons that confound, pushed Republicans into almost sociopathic rage. Whether it's sane or not is apparently irrelevant.
Indeed, last night, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tweeted that Democrats shut down the government -- he clearly has an excellent sense of humor -- because Dems don't want to "discuss the failures" of the Affordable Care Act.
I'm not at all confident that the inept Speaker even knows what these words mean. The government closed its doors because one party wouldn't have a conversation?
Tell you what, Mr. Speaker, end the shutdown and I'll bet Democrats will "discuss" the relative merits of "Obamacare" all you want.