How was your weekend? Maybe you talked to a friend or two you haven't seen in a while? That's what President Obama did. He called his good buddy John Boehner Friday night. But it didn't appear to be a very friendly chat. The president informed the House speaker that he wasn't going to negotiate with him on the debt limit. Boehner said he was disappointed. The call was described by an aide to Boehner as brief.
The government's new fiscal year starts in just nine days. There's no budget. We've already hit our debt limit. The only reason Uncle Sam hasn't defaulted yet is because the Treasury Department is scrambling to move money around with some creative accounting. But time is short.
Lawmakers could fix all this today if they really wanted to. Instead, House Republicans are threatening to shut down the government on Oct. 1 — even let it default on its debts if ObamaCare isn't defunded.
The sane branch of the Republican Party thinks — knows! — that this strategy, and the idea behind it, is insane. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), about as conservative as one can get, calls it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer says House Republicans are "out of their minds" and are flirting with political "catastrophe." Karl Rove thinks it's stupid, too.
To some in the far right wing of the GOP, this means that conservative stalwarts like Burr and Krauthammer simply aren't true Republicans. These uber-conservatives have moved so far to the right, so far out of the mainstream, that in their flat-earth world, the following men wouldn't be Republicans either: tax-hiker Abraham Lincoln, infrastructure-loving Dwight Eisenhower, environmental regulation loving Richard Nixon, and tax-hiking, debt tripling, cap and trade founder Ronald Reagan.
One thing that particularly bugs the far right about ObamaCare is that it increases government involvement in the private lives of Americans. An ad has been running for a few days now showing a creepy Uncle Sam giving a woman a pelvic exam. The ad concludes, "Don't let the government play doctor."
Don't let the government play doctor? You mean like forcing women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds before having an abortion? When it comes to that kind of government intrusion, the Republican doctor will see you now.
Look, ObamaCare is flawed in many respects. It is messy and disorganized, will raise health-care costs for some (while lowering them for others), and is causing some employers to cut spouses of employees from company health plans — despite Obama's insistence that "if you like your health plan you can keep it." A USA Today poll shows only 25 percent of Americans understand the law and what it means for them.
This confusion and uncertainty is a golden opportunity for Republicans, and they're taking full advantage. The White House is countering by using the same high-tech outreach strategy it used to win the president's re-election last year. That's why the real battle over ObamaCare is likely to be won or lost not in the halls of Congress, but at the grassroots level.
Meantime, the Republican holier-than-thou hypocrisy doesn't end with ObamaCare. House Republicans also voted last week to cut $39 billion from food stamps over the next decade. Isn't it funny how these conservatives — many of whom claim to love Jesus and the teachings of Christianity — are so eager to yank food out of the mouths of the neediest Americans? I wonder how many of these lawmakers have read Matthew 14:13-21 — The Feeding of the Five Thousand. As Vanity Fair's Kurt Eichenwald tweeted, "Too many GOPers believe that all poor people brought poverty on themselves. Like those born to wealth earned it."
No one personifies the hypocrisy of the Republican far right more than Georgia's Phil Gingrey. Gingrey voted to defund ObamaCare and slash food stamps, even though some in his district will be hurt. It's hard work, fighting to deny insurance to children and cancer patients, and then taking food out of their mouths. For all his sweat and toil, Gingrey — worth an estimated $3 million, according to financial disclosure records — then complained that he was underpaid.
"I'm stuck here making $172,000 a year," the congressman reportedly complained during a closed door meeting. Gingrey is lucky the comments weren't recorded, but you can be sure there are plenty of folks back home making a fraction of that dough who would be happy to help him find greener pastures if he's so unhappy.