"...I am Sam. Sam I am...I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam-I-Am..."
Dr. Seuss' classic Green Eggs and Ham was the most talked about 'takeaway' of the overwrought, 21-hour political theater a week ago (with more drama since). The "Cruz-a-thon," as one quick-witted observer called it, compounded the reading by following up with totally miss-the-point references -- "I do not like Obamacare. I do not like it Sam-I-am" -- a rewrite of the beginning, rather than, as he inferred, the end of the story.
Everyone loves the stick-in-the-head doggerel, even after having read it "again, Mommy" thousands of times with the kids, and like me, another thousand times with our grandson Sam. Any six-year-old can tell you the essence of the book: "Try it. You might like it."
With Obamacare it just might turn out that way, despite the hissy fits the opponents have been having since President Obama first co-opted their free-market idea for exchanges and turned it into a mainstay of the Affordable Care Act three years ago. We may not know all the details but some of the basics are clear enough, with much of it beginning to roll out. My grandson Sam, the bartender, who has never earned enough to afford insurance, will be able to buy it from a private company through an Exchange. His self-employed mother will be able to as well, despite her preexisting conditions. Our older granddaughter has already gone back on her parents' insurance after she graduated from college. My husband and I will breathe easier knowing they are covered. And for the first time in 50 years, if I needed my own secondary insurance, I could get it without facing a cap on payments for a serious pre-existing condition. We are an ordinary family, so I expect many others are in much the same position.
More importantly, however, the inexcusable number of Americans who have no access to affordable health care and never have had (because they can't afford insurance in the existing market or lost it with their jobs) will be able to buy basic coverage at a reasonable, perhaps subsidized, rate rather than depend on emergency rooms or skipping doctors' visits until they are really sick. And, despite what some of the anti-Affordable Care Act gang allege, insurance prices seem to be leveling out.
The plan may well need kinks worked out. But we won't know until it is fully implemented, can see how it works, and have a rational national conversation about it. That is if some of our legislators have gotten over the tantrum stage they currently wallow in. Right now, watching the extremely conservative core of the Republican side of the House and a few Senators hold the government hostage, I am more reminded of spoiled kids who are not getting their way and holding their breath until they turn blue. That didn't work. They knew it wouldn't, but voted over and over anyway -- more than 40 times, in fact, to repeal Obamacare in the House.
So they linked an amendment defunding Obamacare to a continuing resolution to keep the daily work of the government open and paid for. "If the rest of you don't do what we say we will just huff and puff and blow that house... oops, government... down."
Since then the House Republicans have kept dangling the country down the rabbit hole of shut down and both houses have engaged in a strenuous game of pass the hot potato. The Senate stripped the House amendment to defund the Affordable Care Act from the continuing resolution to keep the government going at least until November 15 and returned it to the House. The House could have punted and passed a clean bill, deferring defunding Affordable Care to a bigger fight. But they didn't. The Republicans brought forward an amendment to defer the start of Obamacare for a year and to obviate the obligation of employers to provide contraception coverage in health insurance plans -- never mind that those same plans pay for Viagra. Back to the Senate. Shish. And so on, until by midnight last night, the stalemate left the government shutting down.
We live in Washington, with the Capitol and Washington Monument in full view across the river. Neighbors in the halls and elevators of our condo were shaking their heads, wondering whether they would be going to work and have a paycheck coming in. And it is not just Washington feeling the impact. The fragile economy can't benefit from this. Fall is one of the times Washington gets deluged with high school students coming to see how the government works. Fine lesson they have learned.
Whatever happens to the shutdown, there is more to come -- possibly worse. In two weeks, unless Congress acts, the government will exceed its authority to pay the debts that have already been incurred by Congressional authorization. The purported Plan B of the Conservative core of the Republican caucus is to tack an enormous wish list -- including defunding Obamacare -- onto a routine bill to raise the debt ceiling. In other words, rather than just raising the ceiling to pay for what our government, we, have already incurred, this cabal would hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage unless they get the concessions they want. No concessions, no raising the debt ceiling. Default. Never mind that the last time they even threatened such a stunt America's credit rating was lowered. Or never mind the negative impact a first-ever default would undoubtedly have on both our economy and the world's. The result could be truly disastrous. But, damn the consequences, full speed ahead.
All of which makes us look like ungovernably stupid. And makes me not know whether to laugh, cry or use language that would make my mother roll over in her grave. Probably all of the above. In fact, the total lack of concern for the common good -- at least as I understand it -- that the conservative actions reveal makes me sad. And because these tactics belie our human special responsibility for the least among us, they make me ashamed. There are legitimate disagreements on policy and legitimate discussions to be had. But we are not having it.
Instead we are treated to the recurring metaphoric: "I do not like Obamacare. I do not like it Sam-I-am." Among other things. "We are doing what the American People sent us here to do," they say. Not only parts of the House and the Senate but also their financial backers keep repeating this mantra, in terms designed to scare the American people. Which reminds me of Chicken Little running around shouting "The sky is falling," not caring whether the 'facts' are created by blowing smoke or real, until Foxey Loxey lures Chicken Little, and her followers Henny Penny and Ducky Lucky into his house. "And they all go in, but they never, never come out again."
In fact, this group, despite their repeated assertion, does not speak for all the American people. They just want us to believe they do. Hooey. Americans believe in paying what we owe. Americans all benefit from what responsible government does. To actually govern requires thoughtful debate and compromise. Not just shutting things down and defaulting on our bills. That way of doing business is not negotiable. As the Senate Chaplain invoked: "Lord, deliver us from government by crisis." Which is the essence of it -- using 'must do' government business to extract what otherwise wouldn't pass or was already voted down.
But, since rational debate is not the level of the discussion, alas, let's return to the ending of Green Eggs and Ham:
"If you let me be, I will try them, you will see." And he does. "Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do like them, Sam-I-Am.!"
The paraphrase may be what they are really afraid of. "I do like Obamacare. Thank you! Thank you, Sam I Am." Meanwhile, we have been hurled down the rabbit hole with no bottom in sight.