If you’ve enjoyed the drama of the government shutdown and debt crisis, you’ll
be happy to know you will probably relive the experience very soon. Senators
seem to have worked out a temporary deal, but first the dysfunctional House must
agree before the government can reopen, and that is very iffy.
crisis is to end, at least for now, Speaker John Boehner must find his
That’s because this whole mess – which he said he never wanted
– began when he abdicated his leadership to extremists in his caucus who would
rather blow up the government and force default than compromise.
dysfunction and hyperpartisanship paralyze Washington, a host of Jewish issues –
domestic and foreign, from those serving the elderly and the infirm to
preventing Iran from going nuclear – are in peril.
If the government is
allowed to reopen and the debt ceiling is raised, what will Republicans have
accomplished in creating this crisis? Bupkiss. All these negotiations have done
is wait until the 11th hour and 59th minute to do what Washington does best:
kick the proverbial can down the road so the whole drama can be repeated early
One result of this crisis is that it will help keep Jewish
voters solidly in the Democratic column for years to come. Another is what it
portends about US influence in the Middle East and globally, nuclear
negotiations with Iran and the future of aid to Israel.
Unlike Tea Party
supporters and many on the extreme right, Jews historically are not
anti-government. They have instead looked to government to protect religious
freedom, civil liberties and provide a social safety net.
For an aging
Jewish population with many living at or near the poverty level, this is
particularly important in 2013 – and programs serving that population are
already being pounded by the extremists’ brinkmanship and the Republican
The GOP’s retreat to the far right means the
party will become more radical, and Jewish interests will be fundamentally
threatened by the rise of extremists who have no power to pass anything, only to
Republicans are demanding cuts in Social Security,
Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, environmental protection, consumer safety,
education and other programs championed by the Jewish community. You can kiss
goodbye to immigration reform, gun regulation and long-overdue critical repair
of national infrastructure.
We have a government in a state of paralysis
and a GOP dominated by elements that want to keep it that way, particularly in
the House, where the leadership is terrified of its radical minority and unable
or unwilling to lead lest it be overthrown.
The current crisis began when
Tea Party extremists and their House allies, egged on by their pied piper, Texas
Sen. Ted Cruz, took the federal budget hostage and demanded as ransom an end to
funding for the Affordable Care Act – passed by both Houses, signed into law and
upheld by the courts, a legislative done deal. When the president and the
Democrats refused to surrender, the hostage takers switched to demanding the
Democrats give them a face-saving escape route that would allow them to claim
There are many losers – furloughed federal workers who lost pay
even though many were required to work during the shutdown, visitors who
couldn’t get into national parks and monuments, medical research, programs
serving women, children, the poor, the elderly – the list is long and growing
On the international front, the government meltdown could prove a
disaster for Israel.
The rise of the Tea Party and the isolationist right
signals an American retreat on the world scene. Just this month the president
was forced to cancel his trip to Asia for longplanned economic and security
It was essential to the administration’s pivot from
Euro-centric foreign policy to Asia. Regional allies questioned America’s
commitment to their concerns, and the American absence created a vacuum, which
China wants to fill. But the xenophobes could care less.
willingness to push to the brink of government default sent tremors through
world markets and badly damaged the confidence of US allies in Washington’s
Nuclear talks with the Iranians began this week in Geneva,
and Israel expects the United States to continue to stand firmly with it and
keep up the pressure of sanctions and the threat of military force. Israel is
particularly worried that the Europeans may be too quick to weaken the sanctions
without getting much in return, and it needs Washington to keep them on the
But the government crisis here inevitably diverts attention
from the Iran confrontation; European and Russian leaders, watching an
administration boxed in by congressional wing nuts, are less likely to follow
the US lead on Iran. Look for them also to try to play a more influential role
in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The Tea Partiers and their allies
are demanding further deep cuts in federal spending, and with their isolationist
views foreign aid is an inviting target. Israel is the largest single recipient
of American assistance and is trying to negotiate a hefty increase; that is
increasingly unlikely as the crisis drags on, and cuts to its current allotment
The worst wounds in Washington are
Republicans picked a fight for which they had no plan and
no strategy, and having lost are now searching for a face-saving way
Only 24 percent of Americans have a positive view of the GOP.
Seventy percent of those responding to the NBC/WSJ poll said they believe
Republicans are “putting their own political agenda ahead of what is good for
the country.” Most blame Republicans for the government shutdown and a plurality
want the Democrats to take control of the Congress in next year’s
The all-important independent voters appear to be deserting the
party. Ironically, in their losing assault on Obamacare, Republicans appear to
have made the program more popular among the public.
The shutdown has
been a political disaster for the GOP. With an elephant as the party symbol,
you’d think they might remember what the last government shutdown cost them and
how damaging this one has been, and maybe they wouldn’t be so anxious to repeat
it. But with a short-term deal on the table, it looks like we’re going to go
through this again in January and February. It must be Washington’s version of
Groundhog Day, which happens to be February 2.
©2013 Douglas M.
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