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The Republican’s weapon of mass destruction

(Published in The Malay Mail on 14 October 2013)

I’ve been religiously tracking the reports on the US shutdown over the past week: how will this major showdown between those Republican fruit loops and President Obama play out?

The drama, the stakes, the egos. It’s like a reading a book whose tale is so captivating you can’t help but flip to the end pages to find out “whodunit” and how the plot concludes.

Will the US go into default this week, spinning world markets into turmoil and tipping America back into the dark crevasse of recession?

If the Tea Party Republicans have their way, it could well do so. Although late last week, mainstream Republicans finally pulled on the party reins and initiated talks with the Democrats. Their move came shortly after Wednesday’s Gallup poll results ( confirmed the Republicans were bearing the brunt of the blame for the shutdown and debt ceiling impasse. Less than one-third of Americans currently view the Republicans in a favourable light.

Friday, the 11th day of government shutdown, saw some pretty intensive discussions between the Senate Republicans, President Obama and his right-hand man Vice President Joe Biden. Behind closed doors at the White House, House Speaker John Boehner offered a plan on the Republican’s behalf to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks, until 22 November, to buy the parties time to “negotiate” without creditors breathing down their necks. Negotiate what exactly? The long-term deficit reductions and Obama’s healthcare law were mentioned.

No deal was struck as the plan didn’t include the reopening of the government, an Obama prerequisite. Since 1 October, thousands of federal employees have been out of work, and many governmental services, including social welfare programmes, remain closed.

The latest press reports talk of “glimmers of hope” and of “cautious optimism” on the stalemate being resolved soon.

Am I missing something?

As far as I can see, nothing has changed the Republicans’ stance, namely that of wielding the budget as a novel “weapon of mass destruction”; all they have done is offered to reset its detonation to a later date.

Obama is standing firm, but he’s got much to sweat about given his country is perilously perched on the edge of that crevasse.

He’s damned if he gives an inch to the Tea Party Republicans. Lurking behind this minority group, is a bigger picture involving two disgruntled brothers, fiercely unhappy with the current political landscape, and with barrels of cash to burn to put it right.

Fingers have been pointed at the gilded doorstep of Charles and David Koch, American billionaires who have accumulated vast wealth through their conglomerate Koch Industries. Since 2010, they have funded several political groups including Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America. These outfits are busy working to either to defund Obama’s signature healthcare legislation, the Affordable Care Act, or to publicise doubts on its effectiveness

More than $200 million was handed out by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce—linked with the Kochs—to nonprofit organizations involved in the battle. $5 million alone was used by Generation Opportunity last month to create a highly distasteful internet advertisement “showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynaecological exam”.

The brothers have strenuously denied their push to defund Obama’s healthcare law, claiming in a recent letter from their chief spokesperson Philip Ellender that, because Koch believes Obamacare will increase deficits, lower healthcare standards and raise taxes, it: “has focused on educating the public about our nation’s debt and controlling the runaway government spending.”

In my previous column, I discussed the government’s shutdown and budget impasse in the context of American democracy. While it is right that minority groups have their voices heard, the decisions of the majority, elected by the people, for the people, should take precedence. Is it appropriate for a minority group, the Tea Party Republicans with their big cheque Koch sponsors, to hold the Republican leadership, and by extension Congress, to ransom? This insidious circle of power, and whatever else is behind this impasse, is surely marginalizing everyday Americans and eroding global confidence in America.

I’m waiting for the next chapter in this story. With a default deadline of 17 October just three days away, let’s hope they cut to the chase, and we get to flip straight to the last page of this sorry saga. I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned Hollywood ending.

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