Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
At first glance, the unnecessary, unwanted federal government shutdown that could begin Sunday may seem to be yet another manifestation of Republican-Democrat, conservative-liberal congressional dysfunction. But it's really the result of a band of about 20 extremist House Republicans (egged on by former President Donald Trump) holding the institution — and the nation — hostage.
That's not just the professional assessment of political scientists, or even Democrats. It's apparent to no less an expert than Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who told the New York Times that "This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down."
So it's now up to McCarthy and what passes nowadays as ostensibly more mainstream Republican representatives to play firefighter on this crisis, and on a longer-term basis take the matches away from the likes of Florida's Matt Gaetz, Colorado's Lauren Boebert and Virginia's Bob Good, who told the Times that "Most of what Congress does is not good for the American people."
Really? Tell that to those defending our nation at home or abroad, whether they wear a military uniform or hospital scrubs. Or the millions of senior citizens who earned, or are depending on, federal benefits such as Social Security or Medicare. Or families depending on nutritional assistance programs like SNAP for their children — who the GOP has long claimed to champion. Or the many Minnesotans who benefit from the $39.5 billion over the next biennium for state-administered, federally funded programs. Congress has done "good" for all them, and the arsonists impersonating representatives shouldn't be allowed to show such nihilism toward government and the country.
In Minnesota, the impact of a shutdown would be felt most immediately in terms of furloughed federal workers who may struggle to pay their mortgages and other bills. While previously received grants would keep cuts at bay for now for some programs, others might face an immediate hit — including, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Women, Infants & Children nutritional program. "If we have a shutdown, WIC shuts down," Vilsack said at a Monday White House briefing. "And that means nutrition assistance to those moms and children shuts down."
What "we know right now is, the longer a shutdown lasts, the greater the impact to state programs and services will be," Patrick Hogan, director of communications for Minnesota Management and Budget, told an editorial writer in an email exchange. "Our focus is on minimizing impacts to Minnesotans where we can."
While Democrats have a group of more left-wing supporters, the so-called "Squad" did not shut down the federal government even though then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also had a narrow governing margin. "Her skill at keeping different factions within the Democratic Party together was extraordinary," Kathryn Pearson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, told an editorial writer.
Pearson, an expert on Congress, added that "the extent to which some Republicans are willing to prevent their party and then ultimately the institution and ultimately the government from fulfilling their role, which is to pass the 12 appropriation bills to keep the government open, is really astounding."
As Pearson rightly described, "this is a new extreme, but the dynamic is not new." GOP leaders must be willing to work with the remaining rational members of their party as well as across the aisle with Democrats to keep the government running. They took an oath to serve the country, not the party, after all. To date, in order to avoid the shutdown and secure McCarthy the speakership (after 15 rounds of voting), it's been nothing but concessions, including an impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden not based on evidence but rather in an attempt to find it — a gross abuse of the gravest action the legislative branch can take against the executive branch.
Deflecting blame to Democrats is not the answer. Just ask Gaetz, who recently told Fox News: "We will have a government shutdown, and it is absolutely Speaker McCarthy's fault. We cannot blame Joe Biden for not having moved our individual spending bills. We cannot blame House Democrats. We can't even blame Chuck Schumer in the Senate."
Indeed, the Republican caucus caused this crisis, and thus must solve it. Temporarily, to avoid a shutdown on Sunday, and permanently, to avoid this tyranny of the minority from further hurting the country.