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October 3, 2013

House GOP to blame for shutdown

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — There’s no reason to delay giving this opinion with needless words: Congressional Republicans are at fault for the government shutdown.

The GOP has had plenty of chances to reject the far right ideology that has hurt this country for years now, but they have failed at every turn. The latest shame has been rejecting a clean continuing resolution to fund the government.

The reasoning, this time, is that they want to stop the Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as Obamacare. Unfortunately for them, their stunt failed. The ACA rollout continued on Tuesday even as other government functions stopped.

But the larger point is even more damaging to the GOP.  The heart of the ACA is based on health care exchanges. This type of health care reform, once called “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, where it was signed by the former GOP presidential candidate when he was governor of that state, was originally proposed by the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. It isn’t socialism, as some of its critics blindly charge. It is capitalism in action, advanced under the theory that greater competition from health insurance companies and more customers from a “mandate” will bring down costs for everyone.

Recent polls have shown that if you call the health care reform by its proper name, the Affordable Care Act, rather than Obamacare, it gains 10 percentage points in popularity. If you separate out the proposals in the law and poll them individually, they score even higher. It makes sense. Who thinks that it would be better to deny people health insurance because of pre-existing conditions? Who would deny college students the right to stay on their parents’ policies? Who would want less competition in the insurance market, or more people uninsured?

Sadly the answer is the modern Republican party and its elected officials in Washington.

To prove it, the House GOP has taken the entire country hostage … again. And there’s no reason to think they won’t try again this month when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling, or next year when it is time to fund the government again. Certainly, stopping a health care law before it becomes popular and successful is an important goal for the House GOP – which no longer governs but only obstructs government – but this hostage taking has been done before when it didn’t have to do with the ACA. We now live with bad ideas such as a “sequester” and “austerity” because of previous attempts to hold the country hostage.

To be sure, President Obama is partially to blame for this mess too. For too long he has tried to stay above the fray and look like the adult in the room. But every adult with a misbehaving child knows that eventually looking like an adult is not enough. You have to act like one too. If your child is misbehaving, you have to take action. The President has for too long assumed he was dealing with other adults, but he is not. He is dealing with bratty children. It has been said that he hates certain parts of his job: using the bully pulpit, lobbying for his ideas, dealing with the White House press corps. We don’t blame him, but we also don’t absolve him. We all have to do things at work that we hate from time to time.

Finally, with great sadness, we assign blame for this mess to our own Congressman, Chris Gibson. Gibson should be living proof that while most people hate Congress as a whole, they like their own representative. He has served his country in the military with honor. He is a good man to speak with. He has bucked his party on important matters to this region like the Farm Bill – which is still left undone – and the food stamp debacle. But he has fallen in with the crazy wing of his party on the ACA. He said he wanted to fund the government, but in this case, his actions speak louder than his words.

Gibson may have a tough re-election campaign next year against Sean Eldridge. It is 13 months away; it is not close to time to endorse either candidate. But based on his actions so far this week, we would be unable to endorse Gibson’s re-election. It would take 17 House Republicans to break ranks with the ideologues and vote for a clean continuing resolution. Gibson needs to be one of those Republicans.

New York is one of the few places left in the country where bipartisanship still works. Perhaps it doesn’t work well, but it works. There are moderate “Rockefeller” Republicans still in office here. As State Sen. Jim Seward proved last year, there is no threat of a “Tea Party primary” working. This is not deep red Mississippi where a majority of people believe stupid ideas like the President is a foreign-born Muslim or adding three exclamation points the to name Benghazi makes it a scandal. Gibson can show leadership and survive with his job intact. He doesn’t need to be a sheep following his party to a slaughter. So it is a shame to see him bleat about the ACA instead of doing his job.

Because of the reality of newspaper deadlines, this crisis may be over by the time these words are printed. The crisis may have been averted … this week. But there will be another crisis soon if people like Gibson and the reasonable members of his party don’t start to heed these opinions. No matter the final outcome, or when it is realized, the verdict remains the same: House Republicans caused this mess. They need to stop posturing, stop obstructing and start working again.