Mad Hatter time

In the second week of the government shutdown, sanity is in short supply


Grover Norquist is a conservative activist whose demand that candidates for Congress sign a pledge never to raise taxes has long been regarded by Republicans lawmakers as an article of faith. He once said that he wanted to reduce government to the size where it could be drowned in the bathtub.

He is getting his wish. But farce, not bathwater, is doing the drowning. In the second week of the government shutdown, the clear stream of sanity is in short supply, while the muddy pool of absurdity is overflowing.

Members of the Tea Party minority in the House, urged on by Texas’ reckless Sen. Ted Cruz with the craven compliance of Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, show no sign of looking past their large egos to the larger fortunes of the nation.

They say they are willing to negotiate. But as their hope remains the ultimate destruction of the Affordable Care Act, they can’t be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, they pass piecemeal bills that tacitly admit that some government spending is good — the National Institutes for Health, for example. But they are still hellbent on playing a game of chicken with the economy.

The situation has become ridiculous. The GOP-led House passed a bill that would give federal workers back pay for the time they miss because of the shutdown. Although this showed a welcome if belated concern for government employees, it makes no fiscal sense.

Why not just pay federal workers to do their jobs? Congress itself is being paid while it does not do its job.

The greatest sacred cow in the land, the Pentagon, announced that almost all of its 350,000 civilian employees would go back to work, a move supported by lawmakers of both parties.

Are they all essential to national security? Almost certainly not. They are just luckier than the 450,000 other federal employees who remain furloughed.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party proceeds as the midmonth deadline for extending the federal debt limit comes ever closer. This would be the final absurdity: the United States failing to uphold its obligations with full faith and credit because of political dysfunction.

If that happens, shame will drown all of us.