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Joseph Wiltse, Lisbon, N.D., Published October 10 2013

Letter: Republicans, their tea party allies need a lesson in civics

To pass a law, you need a majority in both the House and the Senate (well, really 60 percent there), then the president has to sign it, and if it is challenged, the Supreme Court decides whether it is constitutional. This is the whole “checks and balances” thing that the founders had in mind. To get a majority, you win an election.

Divided government usefully prevents a slim majority in one part of government from running roughshod over a large minority. But the idea behind a democracy is not that a minority has, or should expect, the power to pass laws over the majority – and if they don’t get to, that they get to shut down the government indefinitely.

A faction of the Republican Party is disrupting and disgracing the country over a single cause that America has already voted into law – and upheld through the constitutional process. That’s not heroic. It’s not democratic. And, despite what the tea party Republicans want everyone to think, it’s not patriotic.

The Senate passed a budget a long time ago and had been trying to conference with the House to hash out differences between that bill and the House budget (standard process used for decades). But Republicans blocked that attempt to conference between the Senate and the House 18 times over the past six months. And only moments before the government shutdown did Republicans agree to a conference.

You may think the government is out of control, while others think it should play a larger role. That is what the electoral process is about. You think government spending has been out of control, and I think health care spending has been out of control. (The U.S. spends vastly more on health care than any other country in the world – for results that are often worse). I want a single-payer health system, and so do many Democrats ... but you didn’t see them shutting down the government when they controlled both the House and the Senate while President George W. Bush was in office.

That is not how democracy is supposed to work. Study after study and poll after poll show that even Americans who don’t support the ACA want lawmakers to try to make it work rather than try to undermine it – by a huge margin. People either want Congress to let the law take effect, expand the law even further, or have Congress work on making improvements.

The way our democracy works is that if you don’t like a law and want to change it, you persuade the American people that the law is bad, build a consensus in Washington, and change the law through the political process. You don’t change laws by shutting down the government because you didn’t win the election.


Wiltse is a third-year law student.