Memo to the GOP: Time to grow up and help out

Zach Davis

I’m getting increasingly scared by the behavior of Republicans in high places. To call their recent actions counterproductive is a huge understatement. The minority party can usually get away with acting a little irrationally since they don’t have to deal with the gritty, mucky responsibilities that come with running the country on a daily basis. Current Republicans are taking this a little far, though.
It seems like they’re crossing the line between principled objection and knee-jerk obstructionism. This pays obvious short-term dividends: it keeps Democratic bills from passing through Congress and increases public discontent with the paralyzed majority party. However, Republicans – all politicians, for that matter – need to start considering the long-term implications of their actions.
Richard Shelby, a Republican senator from Alabama, made headlines a few days ago when he put a hold on every one of President Obama’s 70-some nominees to executive office. In the Senate, motions to proceed to the consideration of a bill must have unanimous consent. Shelby withdrew his consent to proceed in the confirmation process for every Obama nominee currently on the slate. Though he couched his move in generic “unaddressed security concerns” Republican rhetoric, his spokesman confirmed Shelby placed the holds because he wasn’t getting the funding he was promised for two earmarks he secured in 2008.
The hold is normally a useful tool for senators to get more time to read through a bill. In rare cases, it’s a tool for senators to obstruct worryingly extreme bills or nominees. Shelby’s abuse of the system – he’s essentially holding Obama’s nominees hostage until he gets his pork-barrel ransom – snagged him the headlines, and strengthened his Republican cred, but showed little foresight.
Those nominees are on the slate because there are empty federal jobs right now. Because of Shelby, there are courts that still need judges and executive offices without directors. If Shelby’s action has set a precedent and holds are used in this immature, partisan way in the future, expect damaging government inaction.
The sad thing is that Shelby isn’t an outlier here. The Republican strategy under Obama seems to be “just say no.” Weighty bills like health care, the stimulus, financial reforms and the increase of the federal debt limit have met with almost unanimous resistance from congressional Republicans.
These bills address issues that Republicans and Democrats agree need to be addressed. However, the Republicans unfailingly take issue with the specifics of the bill – we need to reduce the deficit, but we can’t do that by raising taxes or cutting Medicare spending! – and, more frustrating still, bring no suggestions to the table.
Knee-jerk opposition works fine on the playground in middle school, but when there are millions of Americans without health insurance and the country is facing a nasty recession and the prospect of defaulting on its governmental debt, something needs to be done.
If the Republican strategy becomes the game plan for all minority parties in the future, we can say goodbye to our hopes of getting even slightly controversial legislation passed. In the short term, this means people without access to health insurance will continue to not have health insurance, and the governmental debt my children and grandchildren will have to deal with will continue to grow. In the long term, who knows what issues our government will be too paralyzed to address?
My math teacher in high school argued paralysis was the ideal governmental situation. Nothing bad gets through Congress; everything stays the same as it was yesterday. He might get his wish: if our current Congressmen aren’t careful, paralysis will become the order of the day, with two entrenched parties refusing to budge an inch. In this case, everyone will suffer, because our government needs to be flexible to anticipate and respond to dangers the future holds.
Just a few examples: Our country’s infrastructure is badly out of date: we’re relying on 50-year-old bridges, dams and water sanitation systems. Congress can’t agree to appropriate enough money to rebuild even half of the most dangerously out-of-date public works. Americans are still disgustingly dependent on oil, and though we have neither a viable energy alternative to deploy when the global oil supply dries up for good nor a coherent environmental policy to try to reverse some of the damage we’ve done to the planet, Congress can’t make even an inch of forward progress in weaning us off oil or protecting our habitat. Our lack of financial regulation led to our current recession, but Congress can’t agree on new regulations that might prevent this from recurring.
Politicians who see no farther than the next news cycle or the next election will let these issues cripple our country. Obstinacy and inaction are useful short-term tools, but those who rely too heavily on them – Republicans, at the moment – would do well to take a look into our future and think hard about what kind of country they want to leave to the next generations.