Now that the government shutdown is over and default has been averted, at least for 90 days, it’s time to assess costs and responsibility. It’s also time to ask whether those who’ve put the country through this unnecessary trauma will pay any price at the polls next year.
Standard & Poor’s financial rating agency has estimated the cost to the economy as at least $24 billion. Another estimate, including the Republican-induced budget uncertainty of the last three years, came to $700 billion.
At least one distinguished senator has no doubt where to place the blame. You may have seen him, as I did, tell several television interviewers that members of the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party, who hijacked the House of Representatives and held the economy hostage in their doomed desire to defund the Affordable Care Act, were on a "fool’s errand." Their pigheadedness damaged the country and their party, he said.
What you may not have seen, as I did not, was that one of the tea party zealots John McCain called fools was our own Vicky Hartzler.
Ms. Hartzler, who represents the 4th Congressional District, largely escaped the notice of the press, local or national, but she stood unswervingly with her fellow radicals right up to the end. After joining 143 other Republicans in voting against reopening the government Wednesday night, she issued a statement:
"I could not in good faith support a plan that continues to hurt Americans through its unfair health insurance mandates and raises America’s credit card limit while failing to relieve future generations of our enormous burden of debt."
Of course, Rep. Hartzler’s position came as no surprise. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Columbia Daily Tribune published an essay under her name that recited the same exaggerated and distorted version of Obamacare.
Before that, she had long established herself as a member in good standing of what a fair-minded observer might call the wingnut faction of the Republican Party. In her campaign for re-election in 2012, she repeatedly made a Ted Cruz-like promise to repeal the health insurance law. She also expressed doubts about the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and suggested that China was implanting microchips with tracking capability in the products we import from there.
Once re-elected, she voted for a bill that would cut $39 billion from federal food stamps for the poor. In previous years, the food stamp funds had been part of the same farm bill that has provided her family farm with more than $800,000 in federal subsidies. She voted to increase such subsidies.
And before that, during and after her three terms in the Missouri legislature, she worked assiduously against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I don’t want women used to pass a liberal agenda,” she said.
She has been a vocal opponent of abortion rights. It stands to reason, then, that when Matt Blunt was governor, he appointed her to head the Missouri Women’s Council.
Same-sex marriage, she has said, would lead to marriages of pedophiles and polygamists, and to incest.
So you may be asking how we have managed to elect and re-elect a representative who is so unrepresentative of most Columbians’ values. The answer is that we Columbians didn’t, and we haven’t.
Rep. Hartzler was foisted on us by the Republican-controlled legislature when it realigned congressional districts after the 2010 Census caused Missouri to lose a seat in the national House of Representatives. If you look at the map the legislature created — over Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto — you’ll see that Boone County occupies a sort of peninsula off the northeast corner of the 4th District.
Hartzler, whose farm is near Harrisonville outside Kansas City, was elected in the former 4th District in the tea party wave of 2010. In 2012, the only time we’ve gotten to vote on her, she lost Boone County but carried the more conservative rural areas to our south and west. (Without redistricting, I should note, we’d have been equally misrepresented. Blaine Luetkemeyer, our former congressman, also voted with the radicals Wednesday night.)
At this point in the essay, the author traditionally proposes a solution. Not this time. I haven’t heard of a Democrat willing to challenge our incumbent. Have you?
It looks to me like we’re stuck with a representative who doesn’t really represent us and a government that’s doomed to dysfunction.
Or am I being overly pessimistic?
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.