Both parties struggle to square strategies with positions
- Article by: Zachary A. Goldfarb
- Washington Post
- October 4, 2013 - 9:10 PM
WASHINGTON – A group of House Republicans donned lab coats this week to plead for passage of a bill that would restore funding for the National Institutes of Health amid the government shutdown.
“Whether it’s pediatric cancer research, diabetes, so many other cures and treatments that are being developed — we don’t want to put them on hold,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said. “We want America to continue to be the leader.”
Yet three days earlier, she joined other Republicans in deciding to shut down NIH and other parts of the government. McMorris Rodgers, who has a child with Down syndrome, “has always supported the critical medical research at NIH, especially because she has a personal connection to the difference it can make in the lives of millions of families and children with disabilities,” a spokesman said.
In ways big and small, Republicans and Democrats are trying — and often struggling — to square their strategy for overcoming the ongoing government shutdown with their prior positions.
The challenge has been greatest for Republicans, who have refused to pass a funding bill unless it also defunds or delay the health care law backed by President Obama. Many Republicans spent the week bemoaning programs that had been closed and trying to restore funding to individual agencies through piecemeal legislation.
Democrats, meanwhile, have faced the challenge of standing unified against the GOP strategy, refusing to agree to open agencies that they generally support. Dozens of Democrats have broken ranks, however, voting with Republicans to restore funding for veterans.
The net effect is a sort of political cognitive dissonance: Republicans demand to reopen some agencies but not the whole government, while Democrats oppose relief unless everything is restored.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas illustrated the risks of the GOP approach when he publicly railed against a National Park Service ranger working at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. The monument was closed when the government shut down.
In a moment captured on a widely viewed video, Neugebauer stood by a group of veterans and asked the ranger, “How do you look at them and deny them access?”
The ranger responded, “It’s difficult.” Then Neugebauer said: “The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves.”
Veterans started to defend the ranger by shouting at Neugebauer, “This woman is doing her job,” and telling him to do his.
Other Republicans have faced criticism for accepting salaries while federal workers aren’t getting paychecks. Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, who supported the shutdown, said of her $174,000 salary, “The thing of it is, I need my paycheck.” But after criticism from her home state, she said she would give up her compensation during the shutdown.
Meanwhile, Democrats have, for the most part, they have refused to entertain bills to open war memorials, fund the NIH, fund the veterans department and take other steps to reopen specific federal functions. The strategy has opened Democrats to criticism that they are brushing off the chance to lessen the closure’s negative effects. But other Democrats say they must stand against what they have called GOP “gimmicks.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “What right do they have to pick and choose what part of government’s going to be funded? It’s obvious what’s going on here.”
© 2013 Star Tribune