Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 9, 2013

House of Burgess: The dangers of the 'death spiral'

Tea party leaves GOP, USA in free fall.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— At 5 a.m. Alaska Daylight Time Friday, the National Weather Service in Alaska released a forecast with a hidden message.

On the surface it appeared to be your standard, technical weather chatter. But, if readers followed the first letter of each line of text down the left-hand side, they would discover hidden in mundane meteorological talk a cryptic plea:

“P_L_E_A_S_E_P_A_Y_U_S”.

This unusual cry for help was surely the result of a government shutdown originating on the opposite side of the continent, in Washington, D.C. At the center of this congressional fight sits the Affordable Care Act, already approved by all three branches of government. In protest of the law’s implementation, the tea party wing of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives decided to hold unrelated federal funding hostage, shutting down much of the government as of the stroke of midnight Oct. 1. (In case you were worried, these politicians’ checks still arrived on time.)

I say: You want to shut down the government? Fine. Do it for real. Stop delivering mail. Send the police home. Tell the firefighters to sleep in. Tell the air traffic controllers to catch up on their Netflix queues.

The truth is, those who hate government would never dare. They shut down only what they think they can get away with. I think they know if they ever did go all the way, the people would quickly realize how much government actually does — and how much of it they actually count on.

Besides, aren’t Republicans supposed to be the party of business? Government shutdowns don’t make economic sense. They never have.

A 2010 Congressional Research Service report on the 1995 and 1996 federal government shutdowns found: “health and welfare services for military veterans curtailed; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped disease surveillance; the hiring of 400 border patrol agents cancelled; and more than 20 percent, $3.7 billion, of federal contracts, affected adversely.”

Moody’s downgraded Puerto Rico’s general debt obligation to junk bond status during the commonwealth’s two-week shutdown in May 2006.

Two months later, when New Jersey was out of service for the first time ever during 10 days in July 2006, government and businesses lost millions. “Closing the lottery cost the state an estimated $2 million a day in revenue,” Tom Barnes of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported July 7, 2006, on the Garden State meltdown. “The 12 [Atlantic City] casinos themselves lost an estimated $16 million to $20 million a day during the shutdown.”

The state of Minnesota’s three-week shutdown in July 2011 had some unintended consequences. “The state shutdown means Miller-Coors will have to stop selling beer in Minnesota,” reported Bob McNaley of KSTC-TV July 12, 2011. “State officials have told the company it must come up with a plan to remove its 39 brands of beer from shelves and bars in a matter of days. The company failed to renew its brand license with the state before the shutdown.”

Last month, conservative Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer referred to the current ruling faction of the GOP as the “suicide caucus.” Whether they meant to do it or not, this stripe of the GOP has proven true the great journalist P.J. O’Rourke’s line about Republicans being “the party that says government doesn’t work and then … get elected and prove it.”

Just as the ACA could fall into a “death spiral” if more sick than well patients sign up too quickly, the tea party-heavy GOP already is twirling towards the ground at an ever-increasing clip. In pairs figure skating, the “death spiral” is a prerequisite move in which the male partner pivots on one toe as his partner circles him; her body nearly parallel to the ice.

This is an apt metaphor for today’s Republican Party: a commanding central body perilously twirling its partner.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.