WITH A GOVERNMENT shutdown narrowly averted last month and the GOP in disarray as John Boehner nears the end of his time as speaker of the House, looming crises about the functioning of our government are far from resolved. And the way Republican leaders have been acting recently is not inspiring confidence.
Last week news broke that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a "ransom note" of Republicans' demands - including cuts to Social Security and Medicare and a rollback of clean water protections - for raising the debt ceiling, an action necessary to prevent the economy from heading into a dangerous spiral. When it comes to the passage of a funding bill, another basic government function, the GOP seems to be equally willing to hijack the process with outrageous demands. Though Speaker Boehner's resignation announcement helped prevent a September government shutdown over the right's demands to "defund" Planned Parenthood, in reality, it only kicked the can down the road. When a temporary funding bill runs out in a couple of months, we'll likely be in the same boat again, with the same far-right flank threatening to derail a budget deal by pushing ideological riders.
There's a theme here. The GOP approach seems to be, "If we can't get our way, we'll wreck the entire process." It's time for congressional Republicans to start acting like adults and take seriously their obligation to govern.
Attempting to add on ideological riders to must-pass budget bills - whether the aim is blocking women's access to health care, rolling back protections keeping harmful pollutants out of our environment or preventing increased disclosure of political spending - is fundamentally anti-democratic. It's a way to sneak in major policy shifts without having real debate on the issues.
Republicans are treating everyday Americans like political pawns instead of human beings. We don't want the safeguards protecting our air and water to be undermined. We don't want more secret money in our elections. We don't support efforts to undercut women's access to health care. When ordinary Americans already feel that the political system is rigged and that our voices aren't being represented by our leaders, what kind of message does it send when they try to force through unpopular measures by hiding them in spending bills? This is an affront to our democracy, not to mention it has a real human impact. Policy riders have been proposed, for example, that would undermine the critical role that nonprofit organizations play in fair housing testing and enforcement and that would prevent the Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development from enforcing "a unified standard for challenging discriminatory housing policies and practices." Underhanded actions like these perpetuate a culture of granting then revoking marginalized groups' access to equal protections. These aren't just abstract add-ons; policy riders impact the well-being of real Americans.
No wonder almost 180 organizations, acting on behalf of tens of millions of Americans, have called on President Obama and members of Congress to say no to these harmful riders.
Congress needs to stop playing poisonous political games with our budget. Rather than the never-ending political brinksmanship on display from GOP leaders, Americans deserve a thoughtful budget debate so that we can lift the damaging sequestration cuts to schools, health and social services, the military and more.
The United States used to be the land of hope and dreams, but the GOP seems dead-set on making us the land of hand-outs for corporate America at the expense of ordinary Americans.
We don't need funding legislation packed with special favors for big business, attacks on women and other unrelated add-ons. What we need is pretty simple: a clean budget that keeps our government open and the country moving forward.
The Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine is the pastor and founder of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia and the vice chairman of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action.