Put divisions aside and get back to governing

<p>The chairwoman of the U.S. House Republican Conference, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is a bright young leader with statewide political aspirations. But when it comes to the current fight over defunding Obamacare, she is hewing tight to party lines in predominantly Democratic Washington state.</p>

We people of the Pacific Northwest pride ourselves on getting along and avoiding many of the extreme political divisions that polarize other regions. But our congressional representatives are hewing close to straight party lines in the current government shutdown struggle.

Jaime Herrera Beutler, the Vancouver-area Republican whose district includes Pacific County, and Suzanne Bonamici, the Democrat representing Oregon’s North Coast, reflect the positions staked out by their parties as a whole.

Herrera, whose overall district leans somewhat Republican but who can’t afford to be too fire-breathing in her positions, took a redeye flight from California — where her infant daughter is hospitalized — to go to work on government-funding legislation. She voted with her party in the fight over partial shutdown/defunding affordable healthcare.

“She’s not interested in a strategy where shutting down the government is the end game,” spokesman Casey Bowman said. “She voted for the only bill that’s been put before her to keep the government running. Hopefully the Senate will be willing to compromise with the House to find common ground.”

Bonamici said at a recent Astoria town hall meeting that it is inappropriate for House Republicans to tie funding for the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, to authorizing the government to continue paying its bills. With just two exceptions, Democrats voted against the Republican-sponsored stopgap measure presented in the House to continue funding the government but defund the healthcare law.

Noting there is no chance the U.S. Senate or the president will cooperate in gutting the healthcare law, Bonamici decried the ongoing “game of chicken” that puts American economic recovery at stake.

The same voting pattern was true of the entire Oregon and Washington delegation. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, an Eastern Washington Republican who is part of the GOP leadership team, argues “the only time we have made any progress is when faced with one ‘fiscal crisis’ or another, each one brought on by the federal government’s unprecedented growth in spending.” She says House Republicans don’t expect to get 100 percent of what they are asking, but insist on negotiations with the president and U.S. Senate before releasing the nation from the fiscal railroad tracks to which it is tied.

While genuine ideological differences drive some of this fight, it is clear some Republicans feel forced to toe the line due to a threat of primary-election challenges. For example, Oregon Republican Greg Walden finds himself with a harder-line challenger for his congressional seat, narrowing his options even if he wants to find a way to work across the aisle with Democrats to find a way forward.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress. McMorris Rodgers argues it only passed by being “pushed through with every parliamentary tactic in the book.” But pass it was, and it’s not unusual for either party to use all the procedural tools at their command to get what they want. The ACA was signed by a president who has won re-election since then. It has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. If national Republicans still want to kill it, they should strive to win the presidency in 2016 and the Senate in 2014. Shutting down the government now and threatening the nation’s prime credit rating next week are not the way to go.

Pacific Northwest voters and party leaders should come together to tell our representatives that not only is it OK to seek compromises, we expect and demand it. Herrera, Walden and others certainly may face extremist challengers, but the majority of voters need to let them know we support rational and professional lawmaking.

Democrats should be prepared to talk about ways to improve the healthcare law. This need not mean abandoning the ACA or fundamental party principles.

And there are valid ways in which the Republican opposition can pursue this issue without placing the nation’s economic and financial health at risk. It is time for the common-sense majority of Republicans to take their party back.

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