Lummis needs to stop marching with extreme right-wingBy Kerry Drake — October 15, 2013
To vote to shut down the federal government to force changes in law that a party cannot get through the regular legislative process was pointless and foolhardy, and some Republicans will pay the highest political price for it: they won’t be re-elected.
That won’t happen in Wyoming, where Rep. Cynthia Lummis has one of the safest seats in Congress. But she needs to be held accountable for her actions, which harmed federal and state workers and citizens who need the services that government provides.
I’ve searched for reasons why anyone would demand that the federal government be shut down unless the Affordable Care Act was repealed or defunded, and I’ve only come up with three: stupidity, heartlessness and ties to a reckless ideology that are so strong they cannot be broken.
I know that Lummis does not fall into the first two categories so I must conclude that, politically, she has reached a point where she no longer considers the results of her actions and believes that achieving her party’s goals are the only thing that matters.
Like many of the Republicans who pressed for and voted for the shutdown, Lummis has discovered things that the federal government does that she actually thinks are necessary. She is in favor of reopening the national parks, continuing medical research, and funding the Federal Emergency Management Administration and food support programs, among others.
While I applaud her enlightenment, it’s far too little and too late. There are thousands of services the federal government provides, and Congress can’t just fund them piecemeal based on polls that show which ones are the most popular among an outraged public. Lummis and her extremist cohorts also forgot that many vital state agencies and programs are funded by the feds, and that when that money is taken away, the services disappear. So do the checks and benefits for employees.
On Oct. 4, Gov. Matt Mead announced that 231 state employees whose jobs are partially or fully funded with federal dollars would be furloughed due to the federal shutdown. If the federal government is not fully up and running again after Oct. 30, up to 1,600 more state workers are at risk of losing their jobs and along with it, their health insurance.
Among the initial wave of state furloughs were employees in the Wyoming National Guard, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Family Services’ early childhood program. All provide services that are vital to Wyoming residents. So will the other departments that could be affected if the shutdown continues.
Lummis sent an email to her constituents last week that blames President Barack Obama for the entire fiasco, despite the fact that in August she was one of 80 signers to a Tea Party-backed letter to House Speaker John Boehner that demanded he threaten the shutdown of the federal government if Obamacare was not repealed.
Obama and Senate Democrats made it clear that repealing or defunding of the Affordable Care Act was off the table, and that the House needed to accept the continuing resolution that would temporarily keep the federal government open, and funded at the lower levels that the House Republicans had demanded.
Obamacare was passed by Congress, signed into law by the president, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and reaffirmed by the re-election of Obama. If the GOP wants to change any portions of the program, it must do so though regular legislative processes. For Republicans to hold the government hostage to get their way is completely unacceptable in a democracy, and polls that show a majority of the public blames the GOP for the shutdown confirm that.
Losing on the Obamacare issue didn’t change the minds of Lummis and her party, who pressed to get something — anything — from the Democrats that could be seen as a victory. The entire Obamacare fight was exposed as a sham, an excuse for irresponsible Tea Party Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to shut down the federal government just to prove that they could.
In her letter, Lummis maintained, “Under the existing legal framework to deal with a lapse in funding, the [Obama] administration has deemed certain personnel as ‘essential,’ furloughed remaining personnel, and discontinued associated government functions. In Wyoming, the administration has closed off national parks and other federal lands to visitors, furloughed employees, and curtailed numerous other federal activities and programs on which people and businesses in Wyoming rely.”
In other words, Obama exercised the only legal recourse he had when Congress refused to fund the federal government. What else did she expect him to do?
Lummis, not Obama, cast a vote in favor of the action she now castigates. Yet she wrote, “No matter how one feels about the debate over the shutdown, to use the shutdown as a political hammer to punish some and reward others is an abuse of power. This is gamesmanship at a time when our country needs leadership. … To the extent that the shutdown continues, I will be vigilant in ensuring the administration copes with it by prioritizing the needs of the people, not the political needs of the president.”
If anyone is playing political games, it’s Lummis and the minority of Tea Party Republicans who took over the House GOP Caucus and forced the shutdown over an un-winnable issue. That’s not leadership, it’s a childish, victory-at-all-costs mentality that is severely damaging this country.
Addressing her party’s disastrous threat to not raise the debt ceiling, Lummis asserted that Republicans in the House “are choosing not to hand over the already maxed-out federal credit card yet again without some semblance of accountability on the part of the president and Democrat-controlled Senate.”
This statement shows she lacks a basic understanding of how the process works. Raising the debt limit isn’t like increasing a credit card limit for future purchases; it’s agreeing to pay the debts that Congress has already approved. To do otherwise would throw the world economy into chaos, which apparently makes sense only in the minds of those Republicans who have repeatedly demonstrated that they don’t care about the consequences of their folly.
Last week, Lummis was one of 50 House Republicans who wrote to Boehner and said he should demand cuts in Social Security benefits in exchange for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling. It’s incredible: the GOP insists on hurting the elderly poor or it will tank the economy. Is there no limit to the party’s rampant cruelty to our most vulnerable citizens?
As I mentioned in last week’s column about the feud between Lynne Cheney and Al Simpson, politics can take a tremendous toll on friendships. I write this one with great personal pain, because I have been Cynthia Lummis’ friend since the 1970s, when she was Miss Frontier at Cheyenne Frontier Days and I was a beginning reporter. Her husband, Al Wiederspahn, a former Democratic state legislator, has long been one of my best friends. I respect both for their public service, along with many other admirable qualities.
Throughout the years, I have always been a staunch liberal, and Lummis has become increasingly more conservative. We have always agreed to disagree politically. But I can’t accept her decisions that I believe have hurt the lives of so many people, and I can’t look past her failure to accept responsibility for her part in this mess while blaming Obama.
Lummis will likely remain in Congress as long as she wants to, because unlike Sen. Mike Enzi, she doesn’t run the risk of being “primaried” by an opponent intent on being even more conservative. And I don’t see any moderate Republicans who may be upset with the shutdown and debt ceiling debacles itching to take her on in a primary. It may be possible for such a politician to make a legitimate stab at ousting her with the backing of a coalition of like-minded Republicans, Democrats and independents, but it would also take a lot of money. Well-financed, entrenched incumbents are hard to beat.
So my hope is that when she takes stock of what’s happened this term, Lummis can consider altering her hard turn to the extreme right-wing of her party, and think about her role in the shutdown and the negative impact it has had on many of her constituents and the rest of the nation.
Wyoming needs people who can lead, not blame; who can look ahead and evaluate potential consequences, not blindly push rigid political ideologies; and who are willing to compromise with their opponents for the good of the country, not cast them as demons. This is my friend Cynthia Lummis’ opportunity to show that she is one of these people, but she needs to admit that the Tea Party blew it.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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