House Republicans have every right to use the tools at their disposal

Jim Huffman Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School
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On Monday, some clever folks at seemingly all of the television news networks came up with the idea of an onscreen clock counting down to the federal government shutdown. As the clocks clicked down to zero at 12:00 am east coast time, the tension among the various commentators was palpable. It was as if, at the stroke of midnight, millions of Americans would be destitute in the streets while the United States Capitol crumbled into dust.

But nothing much happened, so the clever TV folks started their clocks ticking upwards to remind listeners that as the hours and days accumulate the apocalypse, though delayed, draws ever closer. Still, nothing much has happened.

Well, that’s not really true. There are 800,000 federal government employees not “drawing a paycheck” and the national parks are closed, including the World War II memorial that is otherwise open 24/7, even when federal employees are home sleeping.

The latter act of administrative pique was quickly suspended when television crews turned up to record the outrage of World War II vets who had traveled from distant places to view their memorial. As for the federal paychecks, history tells us that furloughed employees will be paid as if they had worked, so in all probability they are really getting a little paid vacation. Of course there is no guarantee that Congress will again provide for retroactive pay, but as the federal deficit attests, generosity is the most reliable attribute of members of Congress, Republican and Democrat alike.

History also attests that this “crisis” will pass with few traces other than the scars of political battle, and those will heal quickly as we move on to the next crisis and the one after that. As former Speaker Newt Gingrich told an incensed Piers Morgan on CNN, it’s really not such a big deal.

But it could become a big deal if the onscreen clocks record weeks rather than days of partial government shutdown. To avoid that, one side or the other has to blink or, heaven forbid, the two sides have to work together.

House Republicans have advanced various proposals short of their lofty goal of Obamacare repeal, but to no avail. For President Obama and Harry Reid, it’s their way or the highway. After all, Obamacare is the law of the land approved by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court. How dare the House Republicans take the federal government hostage in a doomed effort to repeal the law?

And John McCain is right, the effort is doomed in the current Congress and with the sitting president. But that does not necessarily mean the political strategy is flawed. It may be, as most of the talking heads insist, but we won’t really know until the midterm elections, which are an eternity away in the fickle politics of Washington.

What we do know is that Republicans hold a substantial majority in the House. They are, by definition, the representatives of a majority of American voters and as such have every right, indeed the responsibility, to represent those who elected them. If they get it wrong, Democrats will take control of the House in 2014, just as Republicans took control of the House in 2010 when Democrats got it wrong. And we should not forget that when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress they used every legislative trick in the books to get Obamacare past many in their own party, who then paid the price in the 2010 election.

Are GOP demands for some Obamacare concessions in return for a continuing resolution on the budget any more of a corruption of the democratic process than the “Louisiana Purchase” and “Cornhusker Kickback” that made Senate approval of Obamacare possible? The voters will have the last word, and there will be more hostages taken and legislative sausage made before they do.

For my money, the shutdown poses far fewer risks for the GOP than does the self-appointed leader of the anti-Obamacare forces, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. The man is a bully in a china shop who can single-handedly lead Republicans to another defeat in pursuit of the White House. House. Republicans would do well to distance themselves from Mr. Cruz, particularly if they hope to put themselves in a position to actually repeal Obamacare. But for the present, House Republicans should not doubt that they have as much right to do their best to amend or repeal what they believe to be a bad law as the Democrats had to take every measure they could to get that law passed in the first place.