We are almost through Day One of the first major shut­down of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in sev­en­teen years, and sad­ly, it still appears that House Repub­li­cans are unwill­ing and unready to do their jobs. They could have eas­i­ly avert­ed the shut­down days ago by sim­ply pass­ing the con­tin­u­ing bud­get res­o­lu­tion the Sen­ate sent them, and then send­ing a nego­ti­at­ing team to the bar­gain­ing table to ham­mer out a bud­get over a longer peri­od of time. They chose not to.

Instead, they have dug in and dou­bled down, and our coun­try is suf­fer­ing for it.

Repub­li­cans are so obsessed with win­ning that they have trans­formed the polit­i­cal land­scape into a war scene. They cede only what they are forced to cede. They have con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and they are using it to crip­ple the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s gov­ern­ment to make a polit­i­cal state­ment. Their scorched earth tac­tics are caus­ing seri­ous harm to this country.

They could not stop the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act from pass­ing, so they spread fear, uncer­tain­ty, and doubt about the law (remem­ber the “death panels”?).

They then chal­lenged the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act, but the courts repeat­ed­ly upheld it, with George W. Bush’s own hand­picked chief jus­tice pro­vid­ing the piv­otal vote in the Supreme Court’s land­mark decision.

Final­ly, they went all out to defeat Barack Oba­ma and cap­ture the Sen­ate in 2012, with Karl Rove orches­trat­ing a mas­sive cam­paign against the Pres­i­dent and Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors. As we all know, they lost. Barack Oba­ma eas­i­ly defeat­ed Mitt Rom­ney, who cam­paigned on repeal­ing the Act, and Democ­rats increased their majori­ties in the Sen­ate, as well as in the U.S. House, despite gerrymandering.

None of those loss­es have deterred House Repub­li­cans. They could­n’t win in the courts, the court of pub­lic opin­ion, or at the bal­lot box. So now they are try­ing extor­tion. Black­mail. Either you agree to our demands, or we will make sure the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is not open for busi­ness on Octo­ber 1st. That is the out­ra­geous mes­sage they have deliv­ered to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and Sen­ate Democrats.

They, and they alone, bear the blame for the shut­down. They say Democ­rats refuse to com­pro­mise, to nego­ti­ate. That’s just laugh­able. There is no nego­ti­at­ing with extor­tion­ists. Extor­tion­ists demand and insist on capit­u­la­tion. They demand ran­soms. They are not inter­est­ed in cooperation.

House Repub­li­cans gam­bled that if they played hard­ball, Democ­rats would capit­u­late. It has­n’t hap­pened, and now we are see­ing signs that the least extreme of the House Repub­li­cans are begin­ning to panic.

They fear the con­se­quences of a shut­down — per­haps not the con­se­quences for their own con­stituents, but cer­tain­ly for themselves.

The rest of the Repub­li­cans seem not to care that their intran­si­gence has incon­ve­nienced mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and put hun­dreds of thou­sands more out of work. They stu­pid­ly expect Demo­c­ra­t­ic capit­u­la­tion to sud­den­ly just hap­pen at some point, and they are will­ing to wait for it. Per­haps a very long time.

Democ­rats must not, and should not, capit­u­late. They should make Repub­li­cans pay a steep price for their attempt at black­mail. What they must say every day is: Let’s not for­get that House Repub­li­cans forced this fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down to hap­pen. It was their choice. They knew full well that all they need­ed to do to stop nation­al park gates from being pad­locked and pub­lic work­ers kept home was to pass a con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion to keep the gov­ern­men­t’s doors open.

House Repub­li­cans were asked to sign off on that res­o­lu­tion. The Sen­ate had already passed it; the Pres­i­dent would sign it imme­di­ate­ly if it were passed by the House. But they have refused. John Boehn­er could, if he want­ed, take the fac­tion of more rea­son­able Repub­li­cans with him and join the House Democ­rats in vot­ing for a clean con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion. But he is no leader. He is a coward.

The Tea Par­ty wing of the House Repub­li­can cau­cus, mean­while, are act­ing like spoiled chil­dren throw­ing an epic tem­per tantrum — spoiled chil­dren who are think­ing only of them­selves, not the well-being of their fam­i­ly. They are putting their fam­i­ly’s hap­pi­ness and integri­ty at grave risk with their greed, self­ish­ness and stub­born­ness. It is a depress­ing, ugly spectacle.

And it’s about to get worse. In a few days we will be a week away from the day when the U.S. Depart­ment of Trea­sury says it will no longer have the author­i­ty to pay the nation’s bills. A fail­ure by Con­gress to raise the debt ceil­ing could have a cat­a­stroph­ic effect on our coun­try. If a major­i­ty of House Repub­li­cans can­not be roused to their sens­es, then the minor­i­ty who can have a patri­ot­ic duty to help Democ­rats keep the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca func­tion­ing. We will all lose and lose big if Repub­li­cans con­tin­ue to fly the ele­phant over the Stars and Stripes.

As the Pres­i­dent said today:

I will not nego­ti­ate over Congress’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to pay bills it’s already racked up. I’m not going to allow any­body to drag the good name of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca through the mud just to refight a set­tled elec­tion or extract ide­o­log­i­cal demands. Nobody gets to hurt our econ­o­my and mil­lions of hard­work­ing fam­i­lies over a law you don’t like.

There are a whole bunch of things that I’d like to see passed through Con­gress that the House Repub­li­cans haven’t passed yet, and I’m not out there say­ing, well, I’m not — I’m going to let Amer­i­ca default unless Con­gress does some­thing that they don’t want to do.

That’s not how adults oper­ate. Cer­tain­ly that’s not how our gov­ern­ment should oper­ate. And that’s true whether there’s a Demo­c­rat in this office or a Repub­li­can in this office. Doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s a Demo­c­ra­t­ic House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives or a Repub­li­can-con­trolled House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives — there are cer­tain rules that every­body abides by because we don’t want to hurt oth­er peo­ple just because we have a polit­i­cal disagreement.

So my basic mes­sage to Con­gress is this: Pass a bud­get. End the gov­ern­ment shut­down. Pay your bills. Pre­vent an eco­nom­ic shut­down. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. Don’t put our econ­o­my or our peo­ple through this any longer.

For as long as it takes, the Pres­i­dent should go on say­ing this. He should con­sid­er going on the road, too, and tak­ing that mes­sage to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, to put more pres­sure on House Repub­li­cans. The only way to stop this kind of extor­tion from becom­ing rou­tine is to fight it and fight it hard.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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