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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/9/13

Negotiating With the American Taliban

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In June the US agreed to meet with the Islamic Taliban to discuss the future of Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, comparable negotiations between the Obama Administration and the American version of the Taliban, the Tea-Party wing of the Republican Party, have reached an impasse, which threatens to shut down the US government.

Political commentator Thom Hartmann reported that on January 20, 2009, Republican leaders met to plan their resistance to the incoming Obama Administration.  One attendee, Texas Republican Representative Pete Sessions, said the GOP would use the tactics of the

Taliban Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban.  Insurgency is the way they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- is an example of how you go about to change a person from their messaging, to their operations, to their frontline message. And we need to understand that Insurgency may be required when [dealing with Democrats on] the other side.

Since their 2009 strategy session Republicans have attempted to block every move of the Obama White House, regardless of the impact on the country.  After the GOP seized control of the House of Representatives in 2010, they've thwarted most Democratic initiatives, regardless of their merits.  As a consequence, the House has done little work of substance.  Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza noted that the 112th Congress was "the least productive in history," passing just 561 bills.  The current Congress, the 113th, is on track to be even less productive.  Writing for MSNBC, Ari Melber observed that even though House Speaker John Boehner claimed that "jobs continue to be our number one priority," of the 183 bills House Republicans put to a vote, only one was job-related.

The Taliban insurgency has disrupted the legislative process.  As a consequence, there's not only friction between congressional Democrats and Republicans but also acrimony within the Republican caucus, pitting the traditional conservatives versus the Tea-Party radicals.  It's this conflict that threatens to shutdown the government on October 1st, when the next fiscal year begins.  AP writer David Espo reported

Some Senate Republicans have blocked Democratic attempts to begin compromise [budget] talks, saying they will relent only if there is agreement in advance not to raise the federal debt limit as part of any deal.  "Let me be clear, I don't trust the Republicans," said GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. "I don't trust the Democrats, and I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don't trust the Republicans or the Democrats because it is leadership in both parties that has got us into this mess."

On September 9, when Congress returns from its summer vacation, negotiations will begin on a new Federal budget and raising the debt limit. What happens next will depend upon the strength of the Taliban segment of the Republican Party.  If they have their way, the government will shut down.

 In his classic analysis of the latest incarnation of the GOP, "American Taliban: How Sex, Sin, and Power bind Jihadists to the Radical Right," Markos Moulitsas observed that Tea-Party Republicans and Islamic militants share six common perspectives: theocracy, violence, sex, women, culture, and truth.  Moreover, they share a common moral tenet, that the ends justify the means: "both the American and Islamic Talibans believe they are doing their god's work, thus all means are justified in their mad pursuit of power."

The Taliban wing of the GOP wants to shut down the government unless all funding for Obamacare is cut out of the budget.  In the Senate, Tea-Party Republican Senators Cruz (Texas), Lee (Utah), and Rubio (Florida) have championed this plan.  It's run into opposition from conservative Republicans such as John McCain:

Those of us who have been around for a while know what happens when there's the threat of a shutdown of the government: It's the Congress that gets blamed.  If the minority uses its strength, its 41 votes [to filibuster government funding], then clearly the American people will blame the Congress.

The biggest problem is in the House of Representatives where Republicans refuse to negotiate with Democrats and Republicans are split into two factions: traditional conservatives and the Tea-Party Taliban.   (House Republicans outnumber Democrats 234 to 201, with 51 Republicans identified with the Tea Party.) 

Striving to appease all factions of his caucus, House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly referenced the "Hastert rule" that a majority of the majority must back any bill that he permits to come up for a vote.

Now Boehner is on the spot regarding the looming budget showdown.  At a recent meeting of the Republican caucus, the Speaker wouldn't rule shutting down the government unless Obamacare is defunded. 

The Tea-Party Taliban are a tiny minority of the American electorate and members of Congress, but they are effective because they "believe they are doing god's work, thus all means are justified in their mad pursuit of power."

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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