Some Republican leaders here, including U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, were opposed to the GOP “shutting down” the federal government, but rest assured they are just as responsible as anyone.
And it looks like Oklahoma City, in particular, could suffer because of it.
Coburn, and other GOP politicians here, such as Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt, have been irrational critics of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), labeled by Republicans as Obamacare, since its inception. The editorial board of The Oklahoman has spread the right-wing craziness on a consistent basis.
So this is what you get when you spread lies and use fear mongering. People get duped, and they wind up supporting radical politicians. The radicals, though a minority in government, need their duped constituents to retain them in office so they double down on the scare tactics. What you get is a partial government shutdown, which we have now.
As you know, the federal shutdown (only 18 percent of the government is affected) began midnight Monday after the Republican-dominated House caved in to GOP radicals and tried to tie together the continued funding of the federal government with the weakening and delaying of the ACA. When Democrats in the Senate refused to blink, the House got its way or, at least, its Tea Party element fringe got its way.
To their credit, both Coburn, Fallin and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a local Republican, tried to prevent a shutdown. Both Coburn and Cole stated they were publicly opposed to GOP tactics in interviews with the press, and Fallin wrote a letter to Washington political leaders arguing how much a shutdown could hurt state governments.
But the damage they had done couldn’t be overcome. Oklahoma is a state that, under Fallin’s leadership, has sued the federal government over the Affordable Care Act, arguing it shouldn’t be implemented here. She has also refused federal money, offered by the measure, for providing health care to poor people. Both Coburn and Cole have vehemently opposed the ACA, spread misinformation and helped stoke the fires of irrationality here and elsewhere.
Coburn argues the “promises” behind the ACA “were rigged to fail,” as if the ACA is some conspiracy. The ACA was a compromise, and many people in this country, including myself, do want a single-payer system. That’s no secret. The ACA, which is a good-faith effort, tries to blend free-market interests with getting people health care.
Coburn recently said President Barack Obama was getting "perilously close” to impeachment. He didn’t state the reasons explicitly, but the ACA, or at least the perception of the ACA, had to be one of his reasons. That’s the talk of an extremist, not a measured statesman.
Cole makes a big deal out of the fact he has voted against Obamacare at least 40 times and issued a statement that it was a “dark day” when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the new health law.
Fallin has consistently supported the repeal of the ACA, of course.
So, for the record, some of our Congressional Republicans and our governor foment the right-wing anger on a daily basis against the ACA, and then try to move more to the center when it ends in an act of radical extremism. These politicians have demonized the ACA for their own political gain without a regard for the truth, and now it’s coming home to roost.
What’s even worse is that our area could get hurt badly by the shutdown. According to a digital map created by The Washington Post, the Oklahoma City area ranks 12th in the nation for its reliance on federal jobs. The maps shows there are 40,000 federal workers in this area. That’s 6.6 percent of the workforce.
How many of those federal employees are going to go without a paycheck, and what does that mean for the local economy? Will we just have to see if the GOP really does want to commit political suicide?
Gov. Mary Fallin has called a special legislative session to begin Sept. 3 in response to a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that struck down a 2009 bill limiting the rights of people here to sue for damages.
Here are three reasons why the special legislative session is a bad idea.
(1) Costs Too Much Money. Legislative staffers estimate the special session will cost the state $30,000 a day. The question, of course, becomes how long will the session last? How much will it cost? The ostensible purpose is to override an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision negating a 2009 corporate immunity lawsuit bill, House Bill 1603, because it clearly violated the state’s constitution, which prohibits legislation from having more than one subject. But what else could come up when the session starts? Even one day of costs is too much in a state that has failed demonstrably and notoriously to provide anything close to adequate funding for public schools. The money spent on the session could be used in more useful, productive ways, and the lawsuit immunity issue could be dealt with in the 2014 session.
(2) No Guarantee The Fix Will Happen. So the idea seems to be that the GOP-dominated legislature is going to come together in harmony and swiftly and easily fix this terrible decision by the court. Everyone will then sing a campfire song, go home and all will be well. But is there really harmony in the state GOP these days? Can it all be done quickly? It’s no secret that hardline Republicans continue to clash with more moderate voices in the GOP. Will the hardliners use the session to make political statements? How will that affect the process? Even if there’s universal agreement, will the fix stand up to additional judicial scrutiny? In other words, what if the legislation passed in the special session is ultimately negated by the courts again? It could easily happen when it comes to legislation limiting the rights of people to sue for damages, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
(3) It Won’t Help and Could Even Hurt The State’s Image. Republicans, most notably Fallin, have argued that the state legislature needs to override the state’s highest court to show how friendly it is to corporations and businesses. This, the argument goes, will increase economic development. But the knee-jerk reaction to the court’s decision by the GOP-dominated government in Oklahoma will also be read as extremist and desperate to many people outside the state. Many people will see it as just another anti-Obama state legislature throwing a fit to reward the wealthy at the expense of regular people. Oh, look at what the wackos in Oklahoma are up to. The special session has as much potential to make the state look bad as it does otherwise, both short-term and historically.
The special session is not only a bad idea for everyone in the state, but it’s also a specific risk for Republicans. If the special session goes badly, and that could easily happen, then Fallin and other GOP leaders will look incompetent with the 2014 election looming. That might not mean much against all the anti-Obama hysteria here, but it could add up.
The problem with all this incessant “Oklahoma spirit” celebration after the tornadoes and storms that struck here recently and killed more than 40 people is that it takes us away from solutions.
We have major problems with tornado and storm safety in this state and these problems can be fixed. Sure, it will take money and a concerted effort, but they can be fixed. It can be done. It’s not complicated.
Celebrating our supposed great “spirit,” as if Texans or New Yorkers don’t have “spirit” as well, accomplishes nothing. It would be much better if people here would get angry at the lack of leadership on the tornado-safety issue before the recent storms quickly recede into the state’s collective memory hole.
I’m reminded of this once again by Gov. Mary Fallin’s recent comments that the state won’t suffer any image problems because of the tornadoes and after talking to people on the East Coast on a recent trip. There is a big disconnect between Fallin’s cheerleading and what I’ve experienced from talking to people outside of the state since the tornadoes hit.
Obviously, any governor of any state has to work the public relations angle of any given issue to present her state in a good light. I’m not faulting Fallin for that necessarily, but her comments are so rote and superficial they need to be called into question.
Here’s Fallin in a recent NewsOK.com story about the state’s image and recent tornadoes:
“We're going to have an image of, like I think we earned and we accomplished, that we're a strong people. We're resilient. We're compassionate.”
But we’ve heard that over and over again. I hate to break the news to everyone here, but there are other people in the world, quite a few, in fact, that are every bit as resilient as Oklahomans. History is filled with subjugated people who have endured centuries of hardship only to survive and triumph. Relying on the federal government for bailout after bailout after all our severe weather events and not preparing properly is hardly going to make any real historical list of true resiliency.
The storms hit here. Uncle Sam comes in and saves the day. The storms are forgotten. No one learns anything. The storms hit again. That’s the real story.
Are we compassionate? Well, our current state government denies health insurance to poor people by rejecting federal Medicaid expansion at that same time it dismisses the idea of requiring storm shelters for schools. Is that compassion? Tell that to someone from the East Coast who has never been to Oklahoma and wonders why we don’t have more shelters in schools and why we rebuild in the same areas repeatedly devastated by previous tornadoes.
I know this. I just got back from an academic conference in Charleston, South Carolina, and I was bombarded with questions about the tornadoes. Everyone was nice about it, of course, but they had questions that only lead to the logical conclusion that Oklahomans are big takers of federal money and not intelligent enough to build more storm shelters.
I pointed them to the Op-Ed I published in The Washington Post about the lack of storm safety here after the May 20 tornado, a national commentary that not a single media outlet here would even touch because it’s the truth and not some rah-rah empty cheer about Oklahoma resiliency.
The lack of preparation for the storms has definitely tarnished the state’s image. The television images were reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina—I’m not trying to conflate the two in terms of loss of life, of course—and pretty much everyone outside of the state is thinking about those images when they even hear the word “Oklahoma.” They wonder, just like in the aftermath of Katrina, why we weren’t more prepared. In Katrina’s case, the federal government failed. In Oklahoma’s case, the issue is simpler. We lack storm shelters. We lack stronger buildings. We have rebuilt in an area that has been struck by major tornadoes repeatedly in less than 15 years.
If Fallin really thinks that the state’s low unemployment rate cancels out the lack of tornado shelters here, then nothing will get done after these storms.
There's nothing happening here. That’s not the way the song goes.