Mad Hatter time: The government shutdown becomes more absurd

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Grover Norquist, the conservative activist whose pledge not to raise taxes has long been regarded by Republicans in Congress as an article of faith, once said that he wanted to reduce government to the size where it could be drowned in the bathtub. Now he is getting his wish, but it's farce, not bathwater, doing the drowning.

In the second week of the government shutdown, the clear stream of sanity is in short supply but the muddied pool of absurdity is overflowing. Members of the Tea Party minority in the House, urged on by Florida's reckless Sen. Ted Cruz with the craven compliance of Speaker John Boehner, show no sign of looking past their large egos to the larger fortunes of the nation.

They say they are willing to negotiate but, as their hope is the ultimate destruction of the Affordable Care Act, they can't be taken seriously. Meanwhile, they pass piecemeal bills that tacitly admit that some government spending is good -- the National Institutes for Health, for example -- but they are still hellbent on playing a game of chicken with the economy.

The situation has become ridiculous. On Saturday, the Republican-led House passed a bill to give federal workers back pay for the time they miss at work due to the shutdown.

While this showed a welcome if belated concern for government employees, it makes no fiscal sense. Why not just pay federal workers to do their jobs? Congress itself is being paid while it does not do its job.

Also on Saturday, the greatest sacred cow in the land, the Pentagon, announced that almost all of its 350,000 civilian employees would go back to work, a move supported by lawmakers of both parties. Are they all essential to national security? Almost certainly not. They are just luckier than the 450,000 other federal employees who remain furloughed.

In the meantime, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party proceeds as the mid-month deadline for extending the debt limit comes ever closer. This would be the final absurdity: The United States failing to uphold its obligations with full faith and credit because of political dysfunction. If that happens, shame will drown us all.

opinion_editorials

First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM


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