The blame for the federal government shutdown that affects millions of Americans rests squarely on the backs of House Republicans who would rather protest President Barack Obama's health care reform than govern the country. They have created an avoidable crisis by clinging to a political strategy that is doomed to fail, and Florida Republicans who are falling in line with the extremists are part of the problem rather than the solution.
C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores knows better. He is the House's longest serving Republican, and he has spent decades building consensus on appropriations issues. Young was first elected during the Nixon administration, and only twice has he been re-elected with less than 60 percent of the vote. The chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee has the stature to speak the truth to House Speaker John Boehner and explain to his junior Republican colleagues the foolishness of needlessly inflicting pain on their constituents.
Young contrasts with Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, one of the House's most conservative members and one who limits Boehner's room to negotiate. Ross tweeted Tuesday that "a government shutdown is not good for anyone.'' If he believes that, he should not have been amending the House's dead-on-arrival resolution to make another point about the Affordable Care Act and claiming Republicans are "leading by example.'' The real problem, of course, is that Ross was unopposed last year and represents a safe district that Obama lost twice. He has little or no political motivation to compromise or venture from the most extreme wing of the Republican Party even though his district stretches through Brandon to the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The situation is similar for Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Richard Nugent of Spring Hill. They represent safe Republican districts that Obama lost twice. They oppose the Affordable Care Act, and they have little to fear politically from being obstructionists. Plenty of their constituents are uninsured and will benefit from the health care law and the online marketplaces that opened Tuesday, but that has not stopped them from forcing a shut down of the government in a wrongheaded attempt to undermine the law.
Members of Congress have an obligation to look beyond parochial politics and their district boundaries to act in the broader interest of the nation. As the president said Tuesday, "governing by crisis … is not worthy of this country.'' Shutting down the government to try to derail or delay the Affordable Care Act, a law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is irresponsible. The only thing worse is drawing another artificial line on Oct. 17, when Republicans plan to refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless concessions are made on the health care law.
There were signs Tuesday that reasonable Republicans — former candidates for president, governors, senators and a stray House member or two — were starting to find their voices and argue against the government shutdown. Young and his Florida colleagues should speak up, or they will be no better than the tea party extremists who are substituting protesting for governing.