Editor’s note: The following letter was transmitted by facsimile to the offices of Dave Reichert, Greg Walden, and Mike Simpson this morning. A slightly different letter was sent to Raul Labrador, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Doc Hastings, who are known for being hardliners. All of the aforementioned individuals represent (or purport to represent) portions of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho in the United States House of Representatives as Republicans.
As of tomorrow, October 17th, 2013, we will have reached the point at which the Department of the Treasury says it will no longer have the ability to use “extraordinary measures” to continue paying bills on behalf of the United States. Furthermore, it will have been two and a half weeks since much of the federal government had to shut down due to you and your Republican colleagues’ indefensible refusal to pass a continuing resolution to keep public services that depend on congressional appropriations open and functioning.
I am writing to ask you to join House Democrats in voting for the legislation that Senate leaders from both parties are drawing up that would reopen the government and authorize Treasury to pay our nation’s bills. An agreement has been reached and the Senate is expected to codify it within the next few hours.
I fully appreciate that in casting such a vote, you’ll be risking the wrath of some in your party who see Democratic capitulation as the only acceptable outcome of this manufactured fiscal crisis. But I’m asking you to take that vote anyway.
I’m asking you to put your country first and restore some semblance of calm and confidence in our system of government, which appears to be malfunctioning horribly because your caucus is in the grip of extremists.
Yesterday, your colleague, Representative Herrera-Beutler, released a statement in which she pledged to vote to end the shutdown and prevent us from defaulting. Here is an excerpt from her news release:
Despite my skepticism, until now I have refrained from public comment on the House budget negotiating strategy. I wanted to give House Republican leaders leeway to craft the best deal they could. But it’s time to reopen the government and ensure we don’t default on our debt. I will not vote for poison pills that have no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law. [...] Nothing positive will be achieved by prolonging this shutdown any longer, or crossing the debt limit threshold. It’s time for my colleagues to face reality.
Though I wish Representative Herrera-Beutler had said this weeks ago, I’m very glad she has finally chosen to go on the record and clearly state that she is prepared to vote to reopen our government and pay our bills.
I ask that you now make the same public commitment that she has.
Even the people who run the organizations who have been demanding that House Republicans take a hard line appear to understand what the reality is.
Just this morning, the chief executive officer of Heritage Action, Michael Needham, was on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, and he admitted that what House Republicans have been trying to accomplish is not realistic:
Well, everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.
So what’s with the hostage-taking, then? It has not led to any positive outcome of any kind. As your colleague Peter King told The Washington Post: “We didn’t get anything. This has been a total waste of time.”
Senator John McCain, your party’s nominee for president in 2008, said much the same thing earlier this week. I quote: “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”
I get that you don’t like the Patient Protection Act. You don’t have to like it. I’ve yet to meet a fellow citizen or activist, progressive or conservative, who thought that it was perfect. My team and I don’t think the Patient Protection Act is enough. We believe America needs and deserves Medicare For All.
But the Patient Protection Act is the law of this country, and it has the potential to do a tremendous amount of good once it is implemented. It was passed by a majority of the House, approved by the Senate after overcoming a filibuster, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, and sanctioned by the people of the United States in the last election.
The Republican Party had an opportunity last year to persuade voters to elect someone who campaigned for more than a year on a platform that included repeal of the Patient Protection Act as a central tenet. A great deal of time and money was certainly spent in the attempt. But it was not successful. Barack Obama was reelected, Mitt Romney was defeated, and my party, the Democratic Party, picked up seats in both houses of Congress. That was the outcome of the 2012 elections.
Unfortunately, it seems your caucus has forgotten what the will of the voters was less than one year ago. You were elected to help govern this country too, but so far this month, you and your colleagues have refused to do your jobs.
You’ve shut down much of the federal government for no good reason and brought us to the brink of default. Is it any wonder that Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low? People are absolutely disgusted.
I have to wonder: Is winning more important than governing to you? Because your actions (or lack thereof) have left me with that impression.
I don’t make this observation as a proud Democrat, Representative… I make it as a dismayed American. The world is watching and wondering why the government of the United States of America can’t get its act together. President Obama and Senate Democrats have offered to negotiate a budget if the House would only vote to reopen our government and pay the bills. The House has, so far, refused.
My party did not win back the House of Representatives last year, even though most Americans who voted cast a vote for a Democratic candidate for U.S. House.
I could go on a long rant about the role that gerrymandering and Citizens United played in helping Republicans win, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll say this: I accept that, for the time being, your party has a majority in the House of Representatives. I don’t like it, but I accept it.
However, it isn’t clear to me that everyone in your caucus accepts that President Barack Obama is the legitimately elected president of the United States. You and your colleagues talk a lot about cooperation and collaboration, but the Ted Cruz fan club in your caucus insists on capitulation. That’s not a reasonable position. And blackmail is not an acceptable legislative strategy.
Had the election turned out differently, I feel confident Congress would be working on priorities like immigration reform and tax reform under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, instead of staring at the possibility of default while hundreds of thousands of public workers are at home or idle due to the unnecessary shutdown.
You and your colleagues control the U.S. House. As Representatives, you swore or affirmed an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution charges you with the responsibility of governing, and more specifically, budgeting. Article II, Section 8 explicitly states, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”
Section 8 also provides that Congress shall have power “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.”
I think you’re well aware that throughout our history, Congress has used its power to borrow money to finance the government’s operations. Decades ago we borrowed huge sums of money to fight the Depression and win World War II.
More recently, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as George W. Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, were financed on America’s credit card by Republicans. At the same time, Republicans gave the wealthy huge tax breaks that they didn’t need.
We are still living with the consequences of those decisions.
I do not have a problem with you expressing opposition to the Patient Protection Act, or to the budget proposed by Senate Democrats. I do not view partisanship or ideology as evils. I view partisanship and ideology as healthy and necessary in a democracy. Anyone with a position on any issue can be called a partisan, whether they are affiliated with a political party or not.
Furthermore, anyone who uses the progressive or conservative values system (or a mixture of both) in their political thinking is an ideologue. There is no taking partisanship or ideology out of democratic politics, because if people do not have the freedom to disagree, they are not free. Partisanship doesn’t equal extremism.
But when partisanship is combined with militant means and a demand for a lot of change in a short period of time, the result is extremism. Sadly, your caucus, the House Republican caucus, is in the grip of extremism. The extremists are in control and the rest of us are their hostages.
I have a problem with that…. as do most of my fellow Americans.
If the House were truly a democratic institution, it would have already voted to reopen the government, because enough Republicans have individually issued statements like Representative Herrera-Beutler’s, saying they’d vote for a clean continuing resolution. I’d wager there are even more Republicans willing to support just authorizing Treasury to continue paying our nation’s bills.
But because of the so-called Hastert rule, there has been no such vote. There have only been votes on piecemeal bills to fund a few different agencies that have become the poster children of the shutdown, like the National Park Service.
The time for games and gimmicks is over. This shutdown needs to end, and the American people and the world need to know that the United States will pay its bills. Please commit today to voting in favor of the legislation the Senate is putting together to resolve this manufactured crisis… and to crossing the aisle to do so, if necessary. Show us that you’re an American first and a Republican second.
Founder and executive director
Northwest Progressive Institute