Editorial: Holding budget hostage sets a terrible precedent

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 - 8:36 am

If you want Congress to be locked in perennial budget battles, as California’s Legislature was a few years back, then by all means support the House GOP in its gambit that has shut down much of the federal government.

If, on the other hand, you are alarmed at the precedent set by this type of hostage-taking tactic, then you should let your congressional representative know – particularly if his name is Tom McClintock, Doug LaMalfa or House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

As we noted yesterday, the House GOP is responsible for manufacturing the current crisis by insisting that delay or dismantling of Obamacare be part of any funding plan. This comes after voters re-elected President Obama in 2012, and after Congress has rejected repeated attempts to repeal Obamacare.

If House Speaker John Boehner were to put a clean funding bill up for a vote, one that was stripped of language to undermine the Affordable Care Act, it would easily pass, with Republican and Democratic votes. Yet Boehner refuses to do so, fearful of a small minority of tea party extremists in his caucus that could end his leadership. Essentially, a minority of the minority party in Washington is holding the nation hostage.

We’ve heard from readers who support the House GOP’s tactics. We wonder how they’d feel if the tables were turned. Imagine in 10 years that a Republican is in the White House, with the GOP controlling the Senate and Democrats running the House. Then imagine the reaction if House Democrats were to threaten to shut down the federal government unless Republicans agreed to one of their policy demands – such as an assault weapons ban.

This could be the future of Congress unless people in both parties decry the kind of extortionist tactics that the House GOP is now employing, and that Democrats may employ in future. The damage to the nation’s reputation will be incalculable if this kind of dysfunction continues. If you are looking for evidence, consider what happened to California.

Back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and Democrats controlled both chambers in the Legislature – but not with two-thirds majorities – the budget was taken hostage by Republicans seeking policy changes or pork for their districts. One year, by voting for the budget, Sen. Abel Maldonado got the open primary he was seeking. Another year, Sen. Dave Cogdill secured storage projects for his district in a state water bond.

Hangups over the budget caused the state’s credit rating to tank; state contractors went unpaid; the California-bashing clique of the East Coast media had a field day dumping on the state.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but McCarthy, McClintock and LaMalfa all were in the California Legislature during those periods of budget meltdown and gamesmanship. California has exported a lot of ideas over the years – some good, some bad. Now, it would appear, the House GOP has imported the hostage-taking tactics that contributed to California’s past fiscal gridlock.

Maybe it will work out for the extortionists in D.C., but the dysfunction of the Schwarzenegger years did not work out well for the Republican Party in California. Democrats now control Sacramento, and though they pander to public employee unions and other special interests, they can rightly brag that they have ended gridlock and repaired the state’s finances. Republicans in Washington should be wary about history repeating itself. Voters don’t like dysfunction, and regardless of party affiliation, they should condemn hostage takers.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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