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McCarthy speaker spectacle is no joke. It shows the Republican Party will damage America.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/6/2023 Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY

If you’re a Republican, the last few days have been a humiliating disgrace. If you’re a Democrat, they’ve been a frustrating farce. For all Americans, this GOP – a motley collection of traditionalists, extremists and chaos-mongers failing repeatedly and historically to choose a House speaker – is previewing two years of even worse: incompetence, immaturity and irresponsibility that will hammer the whole country.

It's not just the inability to compromise and govern; it’s the active pursuit of breaking rules and imploding expectations for the sake of owning the libs or whatever. And there are so many ways things could go wrong.

National security and constituent services are already being affected. Members-elect aren't sworn in to the new Congress so they can't get security clearances to conduct essential business, said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who missed a meeting with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley. Congressional and committee offices, meanwhile, are having trouble hiring staff, setting up payrolls and accessing federal agencies to help constituents.  

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the House floor on Jan. 4, 2023, in Washington. © Provided by USA TODAY Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the House floor on Jan. 4, 2023, in Washington.

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And those are just temporary problems in a much bigger picture. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has published a handy list of fiscal deadlines coming up this year. They all require action from Congress to prevent dire consequences – not abstract consequences but real ones that directly affect people’s pocketbooks.

Republican Party likes holding America hostage

Take the debt limit. It will likely need to be raised this summer so the government can pay bills for taxing and spending decisions already made, almost entirely by past presidents and Congresses. The specter of default, of missing payments and shaking faith in the United States, hangs over all debt ceiling debates. In a pair of October 2021 memos, Biden administration economists said a broad default would likely precipitate a financial crisis and recession.

GOP 'clown show' on full display: House speaker battle is really bad look for Republicans.

“GDP would fall, unemployment would rise, and everyday households would be affected in a number of ways – from not receiving important social program payments like Social Security or housing assistance, to seeing increased interest rates on mortgages and credit card debt,” they said. Veterans benefits, national defense, transportation, national parks and the public health system would also be at risk. In addition, “financial markets would lose faith in the United States, the dollar would weaken, and stocks would fall.”

And consider the budget crisis that could loom in the fall. It was only last month that wannabe speaker Kevin McCarthy, trying to act like a militant, endorsed a hardliners’ campaign to punish Senate Republicans who supported a $1.7 trillion “omnibus” budget bill funding the government through Sept. 30. “Hell no,” he said. 

Fortunately, GOP senators ignored the threat (that their legislative priorities would be blocked when their party took charge of the House). The bill passed last month and the Democratic House got it done in time to head off a government shutdown that would have crippled services and protections people rely on. 

What was the point of that thwarted House Republican rebellion? 

Leverage, as in holding the nation hostage so a small group of nihilistic ultraconservatives, most from safe districts and most of them members of the so-called Freedom Caucus, can dictate terms to the rest of us.

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And what would they do this year if they could hold America hostage by instigating a shutdown or debt crisis? They've already told us: Gift the rich with inflationary tax cuts; raise prescription prices; take back the $80 billion the under-resourced IRS just received to audit the rich, answer the phones and catch up on its backlog; cut Social Security and Medicare; shrink aid to Ukraine; and ratchet back clean energy spending.

In short, undercut most of what Democrats have done to solve actual problems.

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Given the Democratic Senate and White House, these hard-liners will have to settle in most cases for talking points instead of achievements. The only saving grace could be a moderate alternative to McCarthy, an 11-time loser (at least) despite handing concession after concession to his ruthless tormentors. That would hinge on Democratic help, which would require meeting Democratic conditions.

'Select all images with speakers'

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told Fox News that he'd consider voting for a Republican speaker, but only certain people under certain conditions – his conditions being no hostage-taking on the debt limit or government funding, and "some agreement on subpoena power." But so far there's been no groundswell of Democratic support for rescuing the GOP. 

Look, I know this is all quite funny in a sad way. I confess I laughed out loud, very loudly, when my son sent me a meme making the rounds on social media – an “I am not a robot” verification with an instruction to “select all images with speakers.” And, well, you can guess which images were not checked.

But seriously, imagine if GOP senators had caved to the House GOP’s threat of punishment over the $1.7 trillion government funding bill. It would not have been able to get past a Senate filibuster. Imagine putting the fate of that giant, essential bill into the hands of the people who couldn’t elect a speaker after 11 tries in three days.

We’ve learned a lot this week. We’ve learned that House Republicans can’t count votes, they can’t solve problems and they apparently can’t abide each other.

But we’re going to have to put up with them, no matter who ends up as speaker.

Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter and Post.News

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: McCarthy speaker spectacle is no joke. It shows the Republican Party will damage America.



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