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Reviews |  How the GOP became a saboteur, threatening to shut down the government

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Reviews | How the GOP became a saboteur, threatening to shut down the government

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Along with everything else – the probable and imminent disappearance of Roe v. Wade, the revelation Donald Trump knew he had tested positive for the coronavirus before debating Joe Biden, and more – I’m not sure how many readers know the U.S. government was almost forced to shut down this weekend. A last-minute deal averted this crisis, but another crisis is in weeks: the government is expected to hit its debt ceiling by the middle of this month, and failure to raise the ceiling would wreak havoc. only in governance, but also in America’s financial reputation.

The point is, the federal government has no problem raising funds – in fact, it can borrow at interest rates well below the rate of inflation, so the real cost of servicing the additional federal debt. is actually negative. Instead, it’s all about politics. Maintaining government funding and raising the debt ceiling are both subject to filibuster, and many Republican senators will not support either unless Democrats respond to their demands.

And what have Republicans exercised so much that they are prepared to endanger both the functioning of our government and the financial stability of the nation? Whatever they may say, they are not taking a position on principle – or at least not on a principle other than the proposition that even duly elected Democrats do not have a legitimate right to rule.

In some ways, we’ve seen this movie before. Republicans led by Newt Gingrich partially shut down government in 1995-96 in an attempt to get concessions from President Bill Clinton. GOP lawmakers created a series of funding crises under President Barack Obama, again in a (partly successful) attempt to secure political concessions. Creating budget crises every time a Democrat sits in the White House has become Republicans standard operating procedure.

Yet the current GOP extortion attempts are both more naked and less rational than what happened during the Obama years.

Under Obama, leading Republicans claimed their budget strategy was driven by concerns about budget deficits. Some of us even argued at the time that the self-proclaimed deficit hawks were imposters, that they didn’t really care about the public debt – an opinion validated by our silence when the Trump administration blew up the deficit. – and that they actually wanted to see the economy suffer under Obama’s watch. But they retained enough of a veneer of responsibility to mislead many commentators.

This time around, Republican obstructionists don’t even pretend to care about the red ink. Instead, they are threatening to shut everything down unless the Biden administration abandons its efforts to fight the coronavirus with vaccination warrants.

What is it about? As many observers have pointed out, claims that opposition to vaccine warrants (and similar opposition to mask warrants) is about maintaining personal freedom do not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. No reasonable definition of freedom includes the right to endanger the health and life of others because you do not want to take basic precautions.

Additionally, the actions of governments in Republican-controlled states, such as Florida and Texas, show a party that is not so much pro-freedom as it is pro-Covid. How else to explain the attempts to prevent private companies – whose freedom to choose was supposed to be sacrosanct – from demanding that their workers be vaccinated, or the offers of special unemployment benefits for the unvaccinated?

In other words, the GOP does not look like a party trying to defend freedom; it sounds like a party trying to block any effective response to a deadly disease. Why does it do that?

To some extent, this surely reflects a coldly cynical political calculation. Voters tend to blame the party that owns the White House for anything that happens under their watch, prompting a sufficiently ruthless party to engage in outright sabotage. Sure enough, Republicans who fought all efforts to contain the coronavirus are now attacking the Biden administration for failing to end the pandemic.

But trying to shut down the government to block vaccinations seems to be going too far, even for hardened cynics. It should be noted that Mitch McConnell, who no one could accuse of being a benefactor, is not part of the anti-vaccine caucus.

What seems to be happening instead goes beyond cold calculus. As I have pointed out in the past, Republican politicians are now acting like apparatchiks in an authoritarian regime, competing to take increasingly extreme positions to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause – and to the leader. Responding to the anti-vaccine hysteria, doing everything in their power to keep the pandemic going, has become something Republicans are doing to stay in good standing with the party.

The result is that one of America’s two main political parties does not just refuse to help the nation solve its problems; he is actively working to make the country ungovernable.

And I hope the rest of us haven’t lost the ability to be properly horrified by this spectacle.


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