CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Look at the hopeless mess in Washington: The U.S. government was brought to its knees because House Republicans won't fund federal operations unless the 2010 Affordable Care Act is demolished, wiping out medical insurance for 30 million lower-income Americans.
Shamefully, West Virginia's two Republicans in Congress, Shelley Capito and David McKinley, voted to block health care for millions.
Meanwhile, 17 House Republicans have switched sides, saying they'll vote to reopen the government with full ACA funding -- but Speaker John Boehner won't allow a vote. Capito reportedly is "leaning" toward joining the side-switchers, but her chief of staff told reporter Paul Nyden she would allow government operations for only a few days. McKinley remains tied to the militant tea party. Both taint West Virginia.
If you think this situation is bad, some GOP House members threaten to repeat the travesty in a couple of weeks when it's time to raise the federal debt ceiling. Republicans say they will force America to default on its obligations unless the new health reform is destroyed. A default would cripple the nation's economic recovery.
This hateful impasse makes everyone yearn for former times when Republicans and Democrats battled daily in Washington, yet they respected each other and cooperated in compromises to help America.
"When Politics Worked" is the title of a <I>Time<P> analysis by TV commentator Chris Matthews, who served on the staff of Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill during the 1980s when Republican Ronald Reagan was president. Matthews wrote:
"Reagan and Tip needed each other and behaved accordingly. Both sides wanted to get something done. ... The government's budget was debated and agreed to each year. There were no government shutdowns, no threats of debt defaults. The two men from different parties saved Social Security for a generation and passed a historic tax-reform bill that cut rates and plugged loopholes."
Speaker O'Neill also served as Reagan's emissary to Russia to arrange nuclear weapons reductions. Reagan and O'Neill were political rivals, but both put America's welfare above partisan goals.
Today, the rabid tea party fringe has pulled the GOP into extreme, inflexible opposition. Matthews said Republican House Speaker John Boehner "cannot let his party be driven until Christmas by the 30 members of the tea party right."
Although today's poisonous antagonism in Washington makes compromise almost impossible, we assume that a way will be found to restore U.S. government operations. But the same mess may flare again Oct. 17 when House Republicans say they will refuse to extend the debt ceiling unless the ACA is wrecked.
Why is the GOP hell-bent to prevent 30 million Americans from obtaining health care? It defies comprehension. And it makes older folks yearn for the day when conservatives and liberals joined in enough teamwork to keep America functioning.