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Congress on Strike!

by Michael Austin, published

The first few Congresses just didn’t have that much to do. They had to approve a handful of presidential appointments, they had to decide whether or not we were going to go to war with France or England. And, since they were the only branch of government authorized to spend money, they had to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Then they could go back to their farms, factories and country law practices and do their real jobs.

It could still be the same way today. Representatives and senators do a lot of investigating and posturing, but their core responsibilities are pretty much the same: advising, consenting, authorizing the use of force, and paying the bills. A two week session at the beginning of every fiscal year could take care of everything that Congress really has to do. The rest pretty much just Reality TV.

This is why it is so incredible to me that we are, yet again, facing the prospect of a government shutdown because Republicans in the House of Representatives are refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless they can force the defunding of the Affordable Care Act. We’ve seen this episode already, and it sucked the first time. This is not even good political theatre. It is a remake of a rerun of “Saved by the Bell.”

President Obama, I think, got it right in his statement yesterday. This has nothing to do with Obamacare. It is not a battle between the President and Congress, or between liberals and conservatives, or between socialism and capitalism. It is not a “concession” to the president for the House to authorize payment of debt that has already been contracted. It is a simple question of whether or not employees are going to perform the core function of the job they were hired to do.

When a group of disgruntled employees refuses to perform the core function of their job until they receive concessions from management, we call it a strike. And this is precisely what House Republicans are currently engaged in. Let us be very clear about that. In every way that matters, our representatives have announced their intention not to show up to work.

Being honest about this, I think, is the only way that the current House majority can salvage anything from the mess they have created. Currently, Congress has a lower approval rating than Lord Voldemort, and voters are prepared, correctly, to place the blame for a government shutdown squarely on the shoulders House Republicans. If they simply called their act what it is, a strike, and walked up and down the steps of the Capitol carrying signs, they would at least pick up the support of those unreconstructed hippies and benighted union activists who refuse, on principle, to cross a picket line.

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