House Speaker John Boehner, more than any other individual, is responsible for the government shutdown. Allowing a few members of his Republican majority to hold all government funding hostage to effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconscionable. He can reverse that disastrous action as no one else can.
In the current session of Congress, there are 232 House Republican members and 200 Democrats (three seats are vacant). A simple majority of the total membership (435), or 218 votes, is required to pass legislation in the House. If only 30 or so Republicans voted to protect the ACA, they would have been joined by about 190 Democrats. The shutdown of government, an action that no reasonable person could support, would have been avoided.
So, why did that scenario not prevail? Because Mr. Boehner is following the Republican rule that the speaker will not bring any proposal to the floor that does not have the support of a majority of Republican members. He will not allow a vote to be held on a matter that more Democrats favor than Republicans. No Democratic proposal can pass the House. That is not representative, democratic government.
If Mr. Boehner truly did not want a government shutdown, as he claims, he would have allowed a vote on a clean resolution to fund the government. He previously violated the procedure on three bills early this year, and the 30-odd fringe tea party members of his party threatened to unseat him. In the volatile House Republican caucus, that is a risk he will not take. He apparently values the speakership more than responsible government leadership.
Mr. Boehner and other Republicans blame President Obama for the shutdown, falsely accusing him of refusing to negotiate. Mr. Obama is only refusing to negotiate the undoing of the ACA, enacted into law in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court, as a condition of funding the government. That is the Republican objective, and Mr. Boehner is giving it life.
Underlying these efforts is the Republicans’ total distortion of the ACA over and over for more than three years. The ACA is not a federal takeover of health care, nor is it socialistic, nor is it endangering Americans, as alleged. Its principal purposes are to ensure that everyone has health insurance and the long-term costs of medical care are reduced. The truth is the ACA is a continuation of the existing market-based system; insurance companies, not the government or medical care providers, will continue to make vital patient care decisions. Republicans should love it.
House Republicans have voted 42 times to repeal the ACA. They have not offered a single constructive amendment to improve the health care system. Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he would welcome such suggestions, to be considered in the normal legislative process. That is a deliberative process, consisting of committee hearings, consideration of expert testimony and meaningful debate. Hijacking the entire government without such deliberation is not the democratic process; it is a shameful abuse of arbitrary power.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.