8 Million to 1: The Impressive Collateral-Damage Ratio for the Tea Party GOP

A few committed individuals can work wonders — unfortunately.

Roughly 320 million Americans are now being harmed at worst, inconvenienced at best, by the ongoing federal-government shutdown. All this at the behest of maybe 40 members of the House GOP, which when you think about it means a leverage ratio of about 8-million-to-1 in the ability of certain Americans to inflict damage on their fellow citizens. Well done, Marlin Stutzman and colleagues.

You could argue that one person tops them all, Speaker John Boehner, with a 320-million-to-1 leveraged-damage ratio. If he let the full House vote on a budget, the shutdown would end. Because he knows that, he won't let the vote take place. This is flat-out appalling, and it resembles no version of "democracy" that our students learn about. To protect his job, he is willing to disrupt millions of other households.  

I had not meant to say anything more about this — I'm in San Diego, in the future-oriented and genuinely exciting Atlantic Meets the Pacific conference, and I have a lot more to tell about sites on our cross-country trip. But then I also thought: on the one hand, I have the combined effects of "I'm getting bored with this theme" / "I don't want to sound like a crank" / "there's a lot else going on." But on the other hand -- while I am getting bored, people are missing their pay, losing their businesses, being dissed as "nonessential," and suffering actual damage. So once more into the mailbag.

1) Force Boehner's hand. A reader in California sends this specific to-do suggestion:

May I suggest a third fact that should be in every shut down story? The House may vote on a clean CR [continuing resolution, to keep the government open] any time 218 members agree in writing to do so through a procedure called the Discharge Petition.

The current rules require the signature of 218 members of the House to bring a bill to the floor for a vote over the objections of the Speaker. The most likely form of Discharge is a rule petition and there is a seven-day waiting period once the necessary signatures are collected. After the waiting period, the petition is placed on the Discharge Calendar, which is privileged business, acted upon on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Thus, the earliest a majority, that is, those who signed the petition, could force a vote is Monday, October 14th, assuming 218 signatures were gathered by Sunday, October 6th.

That gives the people willing to actual vote for a clean CR four days to get the necessary number of signatures. The process is very public. The Representative must go to the Clerk on the Floor and sign the petition while the House is open. His name will be known to the rest of the chamber, including the Speaker. Not much of a problem for Democrats, but likely means the end of any chair position for any Republicans.

Frankly, I think Nancy Pelosi should file the Petition and make a big spectacle of Democrats going up to the Clerk and signing the Petition. One by one, the Democrats would be making a very public statement they are ready and willing to vote on a clean CR as soon as possible and are doing something to make that happen. The Democrats could use floor time to publicly shame any Republican who has stated they’d vote for a clean CR, but hasn’t signed the Petition. I think this would make crystal clear the party that is trying to perform the People’s business and the party that isn’t doing anything but talk.

You may sign my petition calling for Nancy Pelosi to for the Discharge Petition here.

 This message gets deeper into complexities of House parliamentary detail than I can judge myself. But as best I can tell, what he says is right. Mr. Speaker, give us a vote.

2) Another constructive suggestion:

I have a modest proposal that could end the stalemate in Congress overnight. The Democrats in Congress should agree to vote for John Boehner for Speaker until the mid-terms in 2014.

Such a promise would allow Boehner to ignore the Tea Party, ignore the Hastert rule and bring moderate legislation to the floor for a vote. It would protect his legacy and allow him to work as a partner with the moderates of both parties to construct viable solutions to our economic problems. It might even allow him to be replaced after 2014 with dignity.

In my view, regardless of the outcome of the gerrymandered mid-terms, Boehner will not be Speaker after 2014. His current course of fighting for his seat at all costs is a failure. He is literally putting his vanity ahead of the national interest and his own party will tire of this. He would do much better to reach out to the Democrats, propose a term limit on himself and accept the inevitable. By doing so, he could rescue his party and reduce the Tea Party maniacs to the status of Birchers.

3) From a military engineer:

Our mission is allowed to continue because of DOD civilians who keep the US military's long term, strategic interests going while those of us in uniform head down to the fight — and as you know we go pretty regularly. Those civilians are mostly not here today, and instead the contractors who try to take every dime from us have been even more heavily relied on. Which is just a continuing trend of these past few years, or even decades. And it actually mitigates our risk somewhat with this government shutdown - for a cost.

I guess one bit of good news for you is from my perspective, people are not looking at this as a "pox on both your houses." As you can imagine, the military is mostly conservative. Most folks I know don't give a damn for ObamaCare. But pretty much everyone is saying "these Tea Party guys are idiots." Typically you rarely hear political talk within the shop, but when it does happen it always leans red. Not so much today.

The worst news to me though is how many folks seem to be getting so disillusioned today more than in the past. Being in the military is an exercise in becoming disillusioned - most of us join for somewhat idealistic reasons, and then get disillusioned as is bound to happen in any large bureaucracy, but with a bit extra from making somewhat dubious moral decisions, following orders that you're not sure you want to, and risking your life periodically while wondering if you're really making any difference in the world - at that particular moment, or just in general. Like any job, we've got our highs and lows, and we press on because we do believe in this country and this government. And we serve despite the disillusionment. I guess the idealism typically triumphs.

But after this - everybody, even the most upbeat, gung-ho huah NCOs and officers seem to be hanging their heads. I've even heard one say "this is really making me lose faith in my government." Why does this bother me so much, hearing him say that? Because we've all sworn to uphold the Constitution. And it is a document that is primarily concerned with establishing a GOVERNMENT. Losing faith in this government is losing faith in the founding principles of this country, to some extent. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic.

To hear a young, huah officer say that is incredibly depressing...

One last thing - while I've often felt like a pawn in some grand geo-political game of strategy, I've never before felt like every federal worker was in the same bucket. I now think that every single American, and our economy as a whole are just other pieces on the board that the Republican Party is willing to play with.

All this, so John Boehner can placate his hardliners. This is too depressing/ infuriating to bear much further thought. Similarly from another person in the military:

I spent a lot of Friday with a NOAA Corps officer, who pointed out that since you can't have a break in commissioned service, the officers have to show up for accountability every day and then more or less do nothing, since that service is essentially dependent on the civilians: there ain't much to do when they're not working. So you end up taking a mess of talented, energetic officers, and paying them to show up and check in. 

4) And, from a business-person:

Can we use some other word [for federal employees] other than "non-essential"? I don't think any employee is non essential and it demeans the works they are doing with dedication. I am lucky to know some really smart employees who work for the Feds and who while they can make more $ outside choose to stay with the government. So let's not demean them by stating their work is nonessential.

The impact of this shutdown is even felt by people like me who are not Federal employees but rely on data from them to go about our daily business. Far be it for me to complain about this when so many Feds are being hurt by a bunch of irrational demagogues but I think it is critical for people to know that even the private sector is impacted by this.

5) On the further minor-but-cumulatively-destructive idiocy of what 40 people (and one Speaker) are doing to the country:

I'm a professor of Mechanical Engineering at a large, Tier 1 Research state university and I'm teaching undergraduate thermodynamics this semester.

We are in the midst of learning about one of the hardest concepts in the class - multi-phase systems.  In particular, we teach the students to solve for thermodynamic properties of vapor and liquid systems using tables, which have been around forever, but we also ask them to check their answers using the NIST webbook.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a wonderful online service called the chemistry webbook. Here, you can look up the properties of dozens of substances that have been measured with great accuracy by NIST.

 There's chemical information, physical properties, and the webbook will provide thermodynamic data for these substances at any pressure/ temperature/ density/etc.  If you click on the link now, the site is down!

I came into class this morning and one of my students pointed this out and asked if that means the homework is cancelled.  Unfortunately for them, the homework isn't cancelled (they can do the whole thing using the tables), but this is a service that students and researchers alike use on a daily basis that is now offline due to the shutdown. 

Readers have sent in lots of other illustrations from the aviation and NIH worlds. But if facts mattered ....  

I don't often or usually rely on the Brit press for observations of America. But I notice this from the FT:

Or 40 Americans do.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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