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GOP fixation on killing Obamacare threatens our economic well-being

The Republican Party is heading for a breakdown. Grimly, irrationally fixated on doing that which is not possible, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives is on the verge of shutting down the government.

Republicans are holding a gun to the nation’s head – again – threatening a shutdown unless the Senate agrees to defund President Obama’s health care law. But the Senate, controlled by Democrats, is not going to do that and, even if it did, Obama would veto it. The House is drunk on its own Kool-Aid. If it gets its way, the country will suffer the hangover.

There are actually two issues simmering in the House. One is tied to the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. Without legislation to continue funding the government, large parts of it will shut down, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be sent home and major swaths of the economy will take a hit.

Even worse would be failure to raise the debt limit, needed so that the country can continue to pay the debts it has already willingly run up. The deadline for that is fuzzier, but is expected around mid-October. Since Obama’s first election, congressional Republicans have twice threatened not to increase the limit, putting the country’s fiscal reputation in doubt and risking the stability of international financial markets.

Neither may happen, but given the tea party’s wanton approach to achieving its goals, neither should be discounted. The tea party has kicked away the norms that allow a large and diverse country to conduct its affairs. In the end, it doesn’t care if the whole edifice comes crashing down.

The looming crisis is producing some interesting side events. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, has introduced a bill that would put congressional pay into escrow if the government shuts down. “Salary and job performance should be tied together, and if members of Congress aren’t doing their job, that should be reflected in their salary,” he said.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, would go even further. He would cut off salaries to Congress and the president completely, for the duration of any shutdown. It’s an approach that could be unconstitutional, though, given the wording of the 27th Amendment: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

The approaches are nonetheless valuable. Indeed, Collins’ bill mirrors one in Albany that puts the pay of state legislators into escrow if they are late in producing a budget.

Still, it is instructive to note that Collins and Reed are fully invested in their party’s political madness. Both voted for the spending bill that magically defunds the health reform law. Their idea is to precipitate a crisis, then penalize members for continuing it.

There is hope. Some conservative Republicans are sober enough to see that the party is staggering down a dangerous road. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., doesn’t like the health reform law and believes Obama has been a “disaster” on the economy, but says the Republicans’ approach “won’t work.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., agrees. The effort would backfire, he told constituents, and wasn’t achievable, anyway: “It’s awfully hard to repeal Obamacare when a guy named Obama is president of the United States.” Because Republicans control only the House and not the Senate or White House, he said, “We’re in a position to stop a lot of what he wants to do. We’re not in a position to undo.”

Common sense from the Republican Party. Here’s hoping it spreads.