Late-Summer Lunacy from Vacationing Lawmakers
Policy + Politics

Late-Summer Lunacy from Vacationing Lawmakers

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Call it late-summer congressional lunacy.

Eighty House Republicans, led by freshman Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, sent a letter to GOP House leaders on Thursday demanding that they block funding to implement Obamacare, even if it means shutting down the entire government this fall.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who describes himself as a “personal friend” of  President Obama, said this week at a town hall meeting that the president is “getting perilously close”  to the Constitutional standard for impeachment.

And Kerry Bentivolio, a freshman Republican House member from Michigan, said this week he would love to sponsor legislation to impeach the president, but he can’t think of any evidence right now to justify such an action. “I have had lawyers come in, and these are lawyers, well — Ph.D.s in history,” Bentivolio recalled at a meeting in his district. “I said, ‘Tell me how I can impeach the president of the United States. What evidence do you have?’You’ve got to have the evidence.” 

Say what?

There was a time when the long August recess was a chance for lawmakers to chill out, spend some time with their families, collect their thoughts and recharge their batteries before returning to the Capitol to address the people’s business.

That all  began to dramatically  change in the summer of 2009, when conservative Tea Party groups and others  began waging all-out warfare to try to defeat Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which was  pending in Congress.

The bitter divisions about an overhaul of the health care systemexploded at town-hall-style meetings   as members of Congress were shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.

That August, Sarah Palin, the former Republican governor of Alaska, charged that the proposed legislation would create a “death panel” of  bureaucrats who would decide whether the elderly or chronically ill were worthy of medical care – a charge later debunked.

Of course, the  law was passed and signed into law on March 23, 2010, and was subsequently upheld for the most part by the Supreme Court June 28, 2012. Last month, however, the Obama administration announced that it would delay by one year the law’s requirement that companies with 50 or more employees provide health coverage to all their workers. And it previously delayed until 2015 a significant consumer protection that limits how much people may have to spend on their own health care.

But the intense Republican hostility and opposition to Obamacare has only grown with time and has spawned a seeming recklessness  on the part of some conservative lawmakers to try to block the full implementation of a law at any cost.  

And with virtually no progress to date on budget talks between the White House and Republican leaders, Congress could be headed for a fiscal stalemate that could shut down the government in early October or force the first default on the U.S. debt later in the year.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Thursday that he and other Republican leaders were devising a strategy that would avert a fall crisis. It would include passing a short-term extension of existing spending levels to keep the government operating while the two sides negotiate more nettlesome issues – including raising the debt ceiling before the Treasury runs out of borrowing authority and the future of the sequester.

Also, a group of Senate Republicans seeking compromise are scheduled to meet with top White House officials next Thursday, the first such meeting since August 1, when negotiators promised that staff and high-level talks would continue throughout the month, the New York Times reported today.

But the process has been greatly complicated by a push by a handful of Senate conservatives, including Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, and the 80 House Republicans, to block fiscal 2014 government spending legislation unless it eliminates funding to implement Obamacare.

“Obamacare is not ready, and the way it is being implemented is not fair,” Meadows said in a statement.  “By choosing to delay the employer mandate, President Obama demonstrated he knows the law is unworkable.  If big businesses get a break, hardworking individuals and families deserve the same relief.”  

During a town hall meeting in Muskogee, Okla, on Wednesday, Coburn told reporters he didn’t think appropriations bills for the coming year were the right  vehicle for trying to derail Obamacare. That approach would be “childish” and “intellectually dishonest,” he said, “If you’re going to do that, you’d be better off to do it through the debt ceiling,” Coburn said.

Then, he threw  his support to a movement to hold a national constitutional convention to cut down on the size of government. And he  joined with a handful of other Republicans inwarning  the president that his impeachment could be near.

According to the Tulsa World, Coburn said that Obama was “getting perilously close” to the Constitutional standard for impeachment. He also called the Obama administration lawless and incompetent, the news organization reported. 

“It’s plainly absurd, but it’s worse than absurd,” David Axelrod, a former Obama political adviser, said on MSNBC, adding that Coburn "was way out of bounds.”