Republicans in Congress are a minority, so they cannot pass laws. But their control of the House lets them block needed legislation -- thus they have power to extort.
For a month, the GOP House has refused to provide money to keep the U.S. government operating, unless the 2012 Affordable Care Act is destroyed, which would wipe out medical insurance for 30 million "working poor" Americans. This blackmail presumably will reach a climax today.
If some last-minute solution averts today's calamity, the repair may be temporary, because Republicans will have another opportunity to obstruct crucial legislation in two weeks, when it's time to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. If they block that crucial step, an even-worse federal nightmare would occur.
Endlessly, the GOP has opposed Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and other people-helping programs. Hypothetically, they could threaten to obstruct vital U.S. operations unless those programs, too, are obliterated.
Sarcastic columnist Gail Collins wrote: "Behind-the-scenes discussion continued about more things the Republicans could demand: A ban on late-term abortions? A trillion-dollar budget cut? Bring back the gold standard? Bring back the bustle?" But for now, she said, "the Republicans are desperately, obsessively demonizing Obamacare."
As we said, they don't have enough strength to pass laws, but their House control gives them immense blackmail power.
"It is extortion," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday on the "Morning Joe" TV show. "It's holding the good of the country -- the economy, middle-class people -- at risk." He said he hopes Republicans "would come to their senses" and end their ruthless strategy.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said House Republicans stalled funds to keep the government afloat until the last minute, to make their blackmail more effective. "Drive the country to the cliff, and then say, 'Give us what we want,'" he told "Meet the Press."
The White House says Tea Party Republicans are pursuing "a narrow ideological agenda ... and pushing the government toward shutdown."
A Christian Science Monitor analysis said: "In essence, the House GOP is saying: Defund Obamacare or we shut down government."
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote that the "bullies are right-wing Republicans, now threatening that if they don't get their way they'll close down the government and cause the nation to default on its debts .... Obama and the Democrats must not give in. They shouldn't even negotiate with extortionists."
What a disgusting mess. Why, for heaven's sake, are Republicans so determined to take health insurance away from 30 million less-privileged Americans?
No wonder many Americans feel contempt for politics and don't even bother to vote.
We can't guess how this week's crisis will play out -- or the next one two weeks hence -- or the next after that.