Sarah Garrecht Gassen: Republicans aren't to blame for shutdown fiasco, they're responsible for it

2013-10-06T10:15:00Z 2013-10-06T10:22:04Z Sarah Garrecht Gassen: Republicans aren't to blame for shutdown fiasco, they're responsible for itSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I have this hypothetical bouncing around my head:

If no senator, no representative could be re-elected — because it’s a law or because they’re about to be vacuumed into outer space or whatever — how would that affect what’s going on (or not going on) in Congress?

Would the elimination of self-preservation as a motive — or, as my dad likes to say, “a CYA move” — change who would be willing to support what?

Would that fix the government shutdown? Would it give Republicans who have promised their constituents to come to Washington and kill “Obamacare” any different perspective?

Would freedom from re-election give Republicans who are afraid of being “primaried” from the far right the courage to vote for a clean continuing resolution that wasn’t tied to repeated futile attempts to stop or chip away at the Affordable Care Act (also known as the 3-year-old federal law called “Obamacare”)?

Would House Speaker John Boehner have the chutzpah to set aside concerns about preserving his speakership and let the House vote on a clean spending bill without any ACA amendments and reopen the federal government for business?

Maybe this an exercise in navel-gazing, but how do we get through this fiasco without starting to think beyond the parameters of political self-interest.

I do not blame the tea-party Republicans for this mess – they are responsible for this mess. There is a difference.

Blame carries a tinge of unfairness, because you can be blamed for something you didn’t do, like eat the last cookie or ding the car door.

There is nothing unfair about placing the responsibility for this federal government shutdown squarely on the tea-party Republicans, and the larger Republican leadership that fears them enough to abdicate and play along with the illusion that the Affordable Care Act is up for debate. It’s a law. There’s nothing to negotiate.

Politicians and candidates don’t get into specifics because it’s far safer to color a pretty picture with platitudes than to take a position. It’s a lesson that Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat from District 2, illustrated in full last week after he voted, with Republicans, to delay the individual penalty for not buying insurance under the ACA. It was a last-ditch attempt to avoid the federal government shutdown, he explained.

It was in vain, as everyone knew it would be, and he has caught all sort of flak from Democrats who accuse him of selling out, being a turncoat and worse. Barber didn’t vote to repeal or defund or stop the Affordable Care Act. I don’t agree with his vote, or his decision to support subsequent piecemeal spending bills, but I appreciate his willingness to take a position.

We can’t complain that politicians are vague and intransigent and then slam them when they search for practical solutions. Disagree with the decision, offer a different viewpoint, but calling someone a traitor is easier. There’s no discussion to be had. Reason can’t compete with ideology.

Barber is one of about 40 members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — who have been working to find a way out of the shutdown mess. They put forward a proposal on Thursday that would have a clean continuing resolution go before the House — what Boehner has refused to do thus far, and what in all likelihood would pass — and separately vote on rescinding the medical device tax that’s part of the ACA.

“It could be a really long shot and it may not go anywhere, but regardless it’s gotten the attention of people who are saying, ‘Finally, there’s a group of people who are willing to stand up together,’ ”

Barber told me by phone on Thursday afternoon as he walked from the Capitol to his Washington apartment. He’s the only one from Arizona in the group, he said.

“This is a signal to everyone that there are people in both parties that want to do something together.”

Imagine that, a reasonable person meeting with other reasonable people. And coming up with ideas that may not work but are at least something to talk about.

What a novel idea.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her weekly column appears Thursdays. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com and follow her on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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