WASHINGTON – On Day One of the government shutdown, House Chaplain Patrick Conroy opened the chamber’s session with a plea for compassion.
“This is a painful day for many across our land,” the Jesuit priest said. “May those who possess power here in the Capitol be mindful of those they represent who possess little or no power and whose lives are made even more difficult by a failure to work out serious differences.”
“Amen!” Rep. Janice Hahn, a California Democrat, shouted from the front row.
But Conroy’s prayer was not to be answered Tuesday, as lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol did little other than trade blame and invective. Mindfulness was not in evidence.
Even as he prayed on the House floor, the priest was interrupted by a musical cellphone ring from the pocket of Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. Already, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., had injected racially charged imagery into the standoff, telling a far-right Web site that “President Obama can’t wait to get Americans addicted to the crack cocaine of dependency on more government health care.”
On the Senate floor Minority Leader Mitch McConnell scornfully said that Democrats would blame the shutdown on “the mean ol’ Republicans or the Tea Party or Fox News or maybe even George W. Bush.”
Replied Majority Leader Harry Reid: “My friend, the Republican leader, spoke as if George Orwell wrote his speech.”
But God works in mysterious ways. For, in the stalemate that froze the Capitol on Tuesday, there were also the makings of a hopeful dynamic.
Republicans devoted much of the day to protesting that Democrats “won’t even sit down and have a discussion” (House Speaker John Boehner) and “literally just voted against working out a compromise “ (McConnell). They were absolutely right: Democrats weren’t making the slightest effort to compromise. And if Democrats continue not to budge, everybody – even conservative Republicans – will someday be grateful.
Democrats did offer to keep the government running for the next six weeks at current spending levels, which is a minor concession. But their refusal to consider any deal with Republicans that involves weakening Obamacare is good news, because doing so would make the already intolerable situation in Washington worse.
Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, one of the few moderates in the Republican caucus, said it was a matter of time before his colleagues accepted the Democrats’ offer to keep the government open at current levels.
“We’re going to get there,” Dent told reporters Tuesday. “More members are arriving at that position. … There are plenty of us prepared to vote for it.”
“Our goal is to get the Senate to engage,” said Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia.
Protested Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas: “They won’t even have a negotiation.”
Nor should they. In this case, compromise will hurt everybody – even, eventually, the Republicans.
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