The federal government has been shut down by Republican actions in Congress three times in the past ten years. Now Congress itself is crippled by a House of Representatives that cannot begin operating while Republicans remain deadlocked over choosing a Speaker. (Image via Shutterstock)
The federal government has been shut down by Republican actions in Congress three times in the past ten years. Now Congress itself is crippled by a House of Representatives that cannot begin operating while Republicans remain deadlocked over choosing a Speaker. (Image via Shutterstock)

The Republicans’ battle for Speaker of the House is the natural result of wanting to “prove” government doesn’t work—by refusing to do the actual work of governing.

The inability of Republicans in Congress to agree on a Speaker of the House needs to be understood in its proper context: It is the natural course for a brand of “conservative” politics that begins with hostility toward any kind of government action and ends with refusing to even engage in the most basic work of governing. It’s right there in the Republicans’ record leading up to this point.

The Grand Old Party is now the party of government shutdowns—expensive government shutdowns that put a halt to critical services and leave American workers and contractors unpaid. 

The January 2019 shutdown—the result of a tantrum over a border wall with Mexico—ran 35 days and cost taxpayers $5 billion.  One year earlier, the government had to shut down for three days. And in 2013, an estimated 800,000 workers were furloughed for 16 days at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion. 

Republicans forced these shutdowns and wasted taxpayer dollars, even though they’re allegedly the party that’s more fiscally responsible and more trusted by voters on economic issues. 

Meanwhile, at the state level, Republican legislators stayed away from the Capitol in Madison for nine months in 2020, as the coronavirus swept through the population and the economy went into freefall. 

In 2022, they did it again—giving themselves a nearly ten-month paid vacation from legislating.

Furthermore, Wisconsin Republicans never have to feel the pressure to avoid a shutdown of state government. If a new budget is late, state business carries on under the levels of the old budget, however inadequate that might be. 

The basic fact is a simple one: Far too many Republicans are so hell-bent on claiming government doesn’t work that they relish the opportunity to “prove” it by being the reason it shuts down or is severely crippled.

Ironically, these are the same Republicans who have given us the meme-worthy quotation: 

“nObOdY wAnTs tO wOrK!” 

You often see it spelled in that ridiculous manner because it is a ridiculous statement. Unemployment is at a modern-day low in the state and the country. The pandemic aid and unemployment insurance that conservatives decried as a disincentive to work did no such thing. That assistance did not create a dependency on government any more than a life preserver creates a dependency on nearly drowning.

If anything, it’s Republican politicians who don’t want to work, who have a dependency on causing political chaos that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

The Republicans in the US House who are blocking Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) from becoming Speaker have no incentive to allow the new session of Congress to actually begin governing because they are against the very action of governing. 

If and when they are allowed to wield power, their governance will have nothing to do with the inflation or crime messages they ran on in the last election. Instead, they will begin investigations that are glorified dog-and-pony shows. They will try to gut the Congressional Ethics Office. They will attempt impeachments. They will coddle the insurrectionists and the next attempt to overturn elections. And rather than “do” anything for the American people, they will try to undo things like Social Security, Medicare, reproductive health rights, voting rights, and fair tax rates for their wealthiest donors—all the while using the threat of a government shutdown as budgetary blackmail.

The idea of not governing—not even really working, for that matter—isn’t a bug, but a feature of the right wing’s political DNA. The best way for them to claim that government doesn’t work is for them to not do any real work—and prevent anyone else from getting things done while they’re at it.