This nation, and even the world, has witnessed the humiliating debacle of the United States Congress using a self-inflicted wound to make fools of themselves and to damage the image and standing of the United States Government; in a doomed effort to change a law (Obamacare) that was enacted into law, signed by the President and approved by a conservative Supreme Court. In effect, a handful of radicals drove the entire Republican Party into a ridiculous attempt to ignore the results of the 2012 election and pursue a policy that has hurt millions of Americans and did irreparable damage to their own brand.
I had the great honor of representing our state in the United States House of Representatives for eight years (1985-1993). My terms bridged two Republican Presidents (Reagan and Bush) and, while I disagreed with many of their ideas, I had great respect for both of them and did what I could to support them. We, Democrats, held majorities in House of Representatives but we never considered holding the nation hostage to further our own ends or to harm the President. A recession during the Reagan years damaged his public support but the thought of damaging the economy to further weaken his administration never entered our minds. Instead we worked with him to provide jobs and to help those of our fellow Americans who were suffering.
As we reflect on the debacle that seems to have ended, at least for now, we can’t take any pride in the efforts of Idaho’s delegation. Our two Congressmen seemed to have played slightly different roles as Rep. Labrador embraced the most radical elements of the Tea Party and was willing to damage the “full faith and credit” of the United States and impose long lasting pain on his constituents. Congressman Simpson, while sounding a bit more moderate, did little to mitigate the damage a minority of his party was imposing on Idaho and the nation. Perhaps it was the fear of his Republican challenger that silenced him but when thousands of INL workers, government contractors, and other federal employees, were hurting, his silence spoke volumes.
As to our senators, they were not to be found. They released statements blaming the President for the government shutdown and Risch made campaign stops blaming the president using half-truths and distortions to make his point. The bottom line is that neither of these politicians will ever be considered for a chapter, or a mention, in the next volume of “Profiles in Courage.” In fact I believe neither will leave a legacy that future political aspirants will wish to emulate. I think the government spectacle we have witnessed has done great damage to the image of the Congress of the United States and polls that show that hemorrhoids have a better poll number than our Congress people seems to bear this out. Polls show that, even in Idaho, citizens are disgusted with Congress.
When the Senate brokered a deal to end the crisis, and the House of Representatives, without a majority of Republicans, agreed to the proposal we avoided a calamity that would have done great damage to our economy and rocked the financial markets worldwide.
As we assess the damage of this irresponsible action perpetrated by small number of radicals we have to ask what was accomplished. The estimated cost of $24 billion of lost productivity as well as the billions of dollars Congress approved to pay the wages of nearly a million furloughed workers is more than we have spent on many of our national disasters. And the cost to families and communities that were impacted by this foolish shutdown is nearly impossible to determine.
The tragedy is that nothing but pain was accomplished. While the Republicans suffered the greatest loss, all members of both houses were damaged, as was the President. Our nation’s reputation was hurt and our international enemies were gleeful by our incompetent display. We Idahoans can take little consolation in the actions of our Congressional delegation. One, Mr. Labrador was one of the instigators of this mess and our two senators did nothing to help the situation and when the Senate voted to end the mess they joined their radical colleagues and voted to continue the crisis. One member, Congressman Simpson, showed some courage and voted with a minority of his party to re-open the government. Thomas Jefferson said that people get the government they deserve. It pains me but I believe he was correct.
By former U.S. Rep. Richard Stallings