The government shutdown – or the “slowdown of non-essential government services,” as U.S. Rep. Joe Heck immediately dubbed it – was all about Obamacare. Remember?
Aiming “to set the record straight” in an opinion piece in the Sun last week, the GOP congressman declared the shutdown fight was “actually much larger than the Affordable Care Act” and was really all about “our country’s runaway spending.”
That’s exactly the opposite of what Heck said on shutdown eve.
In a Sept. 30, three-sentence statement focused on defending his vote to defund the health care law, Heck said the resolution passed by the House not only would keep the government open, but “controls spending.”
At $986 billion, the spending level that Heck voted for – that Heck said “controls spending” – equaled the spending level in the resolution passed by Harry Reid and Senate Democrats. Ten days later, Heck said the spending amount he had praised mere days earlier amounted to “runaway spending.”
Just the garden-variety behavior of a garden-variety backbencher, you say? Oh, there’s more where that came from.
For three years in a row Tea Party-controlled House Republicans have passed dramatic long-term austerity budgets written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Heck voted for two of the three, including the first one in 2011, which was also the one with the harshest spending cuts.
That budget was “a bold starting point,” just the ticket toward “getting our nation’s fiscal house in order,” Heck said at the time. “It cuts spending, grows the economy, creates jobs and secures the future for our children and our grandchildren,” he added.
Had that budget been signed into law, federal spending in the current fiscal year would have been $1.095 trillion. That’s about 11 percent more than the $986 billion figure approved by both the House (“controls spending,” Heck said) and the Senate, but that didn’t pass because Heck and his Republican pals were obsessed with Obamacare. And now all Heck asks is for everyone to please ignore all that, thank you, while he Hecksplains that the fight is really about “runaway spending.”
As it happens, there is no runaway spending. But mindless cutting is a bit of a problem.
The deal that ended the Tea Party’s job-killing debt ceiling fiasco of the summer of 2011 cut spending by an initial $917 billion over 10 years. Congress was then supposed to find more cuts, but it didn’t, and that triggered another job-killer, the Tea Party-championed sequestration that kicked in earlier this year and that cuts another $1.2 trillion over a decade.
When the deal was struck, Heck crowed that it “provides real savings in today’s spending, real controls on tomorrow’s spending, and real accountability for the future.”
Or as GOP Speaker John Boehner boasted after the 2011 deal was done, “I got 98 percent of what I wanted.”
What Heck, Boehner and the rest of us actually got out that 2011 deal was a self-inflicted assault on the economy that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, has significantly stymied GDP growth and job creation.
But the federal deficit is less than half what it was during Obama’s first year in the White House, and has been dropping more rapidly than at any time since World War II. No wonder, then, that when Heck’s Tea Party-controlled House decided this month to relive those glory days of 2011 and flirt with economic collapse yet again unless the Democrats gave Republicans everything they wanted, not even the GOP was talking about the debt and deficit.
It was all about killing Obamacare.
As soon as it became clear that Republicans had finally demanded something that historically timid and capitulating Democrats would not grant, Republicans shifted their demands – though as this is written it is still not clear exactly what they were demanding.
Of course the most informative explanation of GOP motivation was rendered by Indiana Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), who famously said early in the shutdown, “We have to get something out of this, and I don’t know what that even is.”
Building the Keystone pipeline, perhaps? How about a “conscience clause” so health insurance doesn’t cover birth control? Both of those surfaced during the shutdown as “something out of this” that Heck and his GOP soul mates hoped to get.
It’s all about “runaway spending,” Heck says.
No. What it’s all about is a group of wild-eyed Tea Party dimwits and another group of Republicans who are too chickenshit to stand up to the first group.
Media outlets in and out of Nevada occasionally attempt to discern in which group Heck rightfully belongs, but so long as he’s reliability voting with the clown show, whether he’s one of them or just too wimpy to challenge them is academic.
Hugh Jackson’s column runs every other week.