Government shutdown: Monumental idiocy

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WASHINGTON - Insane. Irresponsible. Ideological. Infantile. Idiotic. Those are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind to describe the right-wing lawmakers who imposed the government shutdown that started Oct. 1, and the looming threat they pose when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling in the middle of this month, too.

The tea party'ers and, even more importantly, the Republican leadership that refuses to stand up to them, forced the cessation of many essential government activities by ideologically insisting that any money bill to keep federal agencies going must also "defund" the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance revision whose bigger impacts started the same day, opening up insurance to millions who now don't have it.

The GOP insultingly calls the law "Obamacare" and vows to hold the government and the country hostage until they get their way.

News items feature the shutdown of federal monuments. But it's much more serious than that.

Not all of the government shut down on Oct.1. Federal prison correctional officers, for example, had to report to and stay on their jobs - but they might not get paid when their checks are due.

And the prisons are grossly overpopulated, understaffed, and dangerous already, thanks to absurd manadatory sentencing laws and past congressional budget cuts, several of them explained at a news conference yesterday by their union, the American Federation of Government Employees.

Such real-world impacts of the shutdown fell on deaf ears on Capitol Hill, notably among the House's ruling Republicans. They kept passing money bills that included non-negotiable demands to yank money from and abolish "Obamacare."

The shutdown may be bad enough, but what's coming down the pike will be worse. Those same tea party'ers, with the compalceny of mainstream Republicans and the GOP leadership, want to throw the U.S. into default on its debts on Oct. 18 unless they get their way, on the Affordable Care Act and a whole laundry list of right-wing pet issues.

That's the day, the Treasury Department calculates, that the U.S. will have reached its borrowing limit, $16.7 trillion, to cover all the past debts accumulated ever since 1837, the last time there was no federal debt to pay off. The Treasury will have to pay some bills - and default on the rest.

And when it does, the economy goes into a tailspin and we're back in the Great Recession again, economists of all political persuasions say. And since the U.S. is the linchpin of the world economy, that throws the entire globe back into a slump.

If you look at other, smaller, countries that have defaulted, you see the long-range impacts, led by a huge rise in government interest costs and a calamitous collapse in living standards for their citizens. The tea party'ers, the Republican leaders, and the multi-national corporate giants who back them obviously don't care.

The way to avoid this is to raise the debt limit. The tea party won't.

"Shutting down the government would weaken demand, reduce employment and roil markets," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement as the GOP forced the government shutdown. "Punishing federal workers and taxpayers to prove a point is a temper tantrum worthy of a four-year old, not a policy choice of a responsible political party.

"We stand with President Obama as he rejects unequivocally all Republican hostage taking. And we agree with the president it would be a disastrous precedent for our democracy if we have any negotiations over (raising) the debt ceiling."

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox was even more direct about the impasse. Cox said the government is locking out its own workers.

Both were being polite. There's another adjective they could have - and we will - use to describe the tea party'ers. And it doesn't start with an "i." Evil.

Photo: A woman outside the Capitol protests the petty tactics of Republicans. Evan Vucci/AP

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