GOP Shakedown

Leo Gerard

Republicans tried and tried, more than 40 times, in fact. Unlike the Little Engine That Could, the GOP couldn’t. They just couldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Last week they switched tracks to exploit a different tactic – extortion. It’s an old style mafia shakedown. The threat made by the Grumpy Obstructionist Party (GOP) is simple: “Gimme what I want or I’ll kill the government.” Democrats refused to pay the ransom by defunding the Affordable Care Act, so the GOP defunded the federal government.

That cost 800,000 federal workers their jobs. It denied life-saving treatment to kids with cancer. It closed national parks and hobbled tourist-dependent businesses. It ended services to veterans, children and seniors. The suffering could stop, Republican extortionists say, if President Obama would just surrender the Affordable Care Act, just give the GOP what it failed to achieve through the normal democratic, majority-rule process.

President Obama has said he won’t submit to this shakedown. Instead, he should counter with demands of his own – demands that Republicans approve legislation that Democrats want but didn’t get passed through the normal, democratic, majority-rule process.

Democrats’ counter offer must be big and bold. Republicans want the Affordable Care Act repealed? Well, Democrats want gun control, immigration reform, a financial transaction tax, an income tax increase for the 1 percent, a raise in the minimum wage, the Employee Free Choice Act, better Social Security benefits, an end to GOP challenges to abortion rights, re-institution of the Glass-Steagall Act regulating Wall Street, Cap and Trade environmental regulations, a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United campaign finance decision, immediate approval for all of President Obama’s federal judge nominees, a human heart for Grover Norquist, a spine for John Boehner and a chicken in every pot.

That would be a good start for negotiations.

Bargaining is what the GOP keeps saying it wants. It insists on haggling over doing the most basic job of Congress – properly funding the federal government and paying bills Congress racked up.

For example, here’s what Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky got caught saying on an open mic to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I just did CNN and I just go over and over again, ‘We’re willing to compromise. We’re willing to negotiate.’ I think… I don’t think they poll tested we won’t negotiate. I think it’s awful for [Democrats] to say that over and over again.”

And here’s U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the failed Republican vice presidential candidate and chairman of the House Budget Committee: “It’s untenable not to negotiate.”

President Obama is appalled by the prospect of horse trading to restore government operations that should never have been shut down. He believes Congress should fulfill its budgetary and bill-paying obligations without bribes or coercion.

He’s taking the high road.

In Congress, though, the wrangling is down and dirty. Democrats have a strong hand if they choose to negotiate, not only because their list of demands is longer, but also because some Republicans don’t have a clue what they’re fighting about.

Here’s Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman from Indiana, for example: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Stutzman doesn’t know what he wants in exchange for costing 800,000 federal workers their jobs and endangering untold numbers of small businesses and the economy. But he sure as hell isn’t going to be disrespected by someone somehow! Maybe Democrats could buy him a scepter, since, apparently, having his colleagues demonstrate reverence is more important to him than a functioning U.S. government.

Democrats should begin negotiations by offering to waive their demand for a human heart for Grover Norquist. He’s the dude who persuaded so many Republicans to pledge never to raise taxes, the result of which is that the 1 percent does not pay its fair share and the poor are denied food stamps.

This proposal from Democrats is really just designed to begin talks. Few Republicans have a soft spot in their hearts for Norquist because his no-new-taxes pledge has caused them so much heartburn. So they’re unlikely to accept a human heart for him in exchange for the death of the Affordable Care Act. That’s fine because what Norquist needs most is not a heart but a soul. And Congress can’t accomplish that. Securing a soul requires divine intervention.

With the two sides talking, the next step in negotiations is easy for Democrats. They could agree to repeal the Affordable Care Act in exchange for Republicans approving single payer health insurance – Medicare for all.

With Medicare for all, Norquist could get his human heart transplant, Boehner could get a backbone, and every American would get health insurance – just like the citizens of all other Western industrialized nations.

That’s a deal where everyone wins.

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