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Shawn Vestal: Shutdown Cathy and GOP are in denial

There it was in stark relief: House Republicans, including Shutdown Cathy, calling a press conference to protest the shutting down of an essential, life-or-death government service.

Some of them put on lab coats. The Washington press corps attended and took notes. Shutdown Cathy intoned about the crucial importance of the work done by the National Institutes of Health – vital, life-saving work that had tragically come to a halt for some reason that these lab-coated, research-loving Republicans just could not understand.

“Whether it’s pediatric cancer research, diabetes, so many other cures and treatments that are being developed – we don’t want to put them on hold,” said our own Cathy McMorris Rodgers last Thursday, according to the Washington Post. “We want America to continue to be the leader.”

If only there was something they could do about this. If only they had it within their grasp to do something – anything – about the shutdown that they themselves had … planned and …

Oh, right. Never mind.

What do you call it when people just keep repeating things that we and they know to be untrue? When they actually perform their fictions, like theater, with costumes and scripts and earnest masks? There ought to be an Oscar: Best Performance in an Obstructionary Role. Shutdown Cathy would be nominated, surely, but she wouldn’t win, because there have been so many unbelievable – literally unbelievable – performances in these past two weeks.

Still, she’s our piece of this disgrace, and we’re hers: She wrote in USA Today that everywhere she goes in Eastern Washington, she hears that “Obamacare is making life harder for everyday Americans.” Of course, the last time Shutdown Cathy spent time here Obamacare was not actually in place yet.

But never mind.

She has stood, loyally, at the flanks of Boehner as he winces his way through the latest pretense that they are the flexible ones. She has insisted that the obviously factionary GOP is absolutely united. She has angrily decried the “incendiary” rhetoric of Democrats – because these GOP desperadoes will force a government shutdown and threaten a default, but they cannot abide an unkind metaphor.

She has taken to the pages of USA Today to assert that the American people support what she and her gang are doing – but also, at the same time, to assert that she and her gang are not the ones doing it.

She will say anything, apparently. Anything at all. Shutdown Cathy has repeatedly, for example, erred when reporting the impact of Obamacare on premiums. Or perhaps that’s “erred.” It is, after all, hard to keep granting someone the benefit of the doubt when they keep making convenient and useful errors. Shutdown Cathy once said, in an email to constituents, that insurance premiums for Eastern Washington families had risen by $3,000 between 2012 and 2013. Before Obamacare, but never mind. On CNN, she bumped it up to $7,500.

The Seattle Times checked it out and concluded this: The “source for that figure – the  2013 survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and provided by McMorris Rodgers’ office – says family premiums rose from 2012 by 4 percent, or $629. Of that, $452 on average was borne directly by employers, not employees.”

Her office later said she misspoke. Never mind.

In her USA Today op-ed, Shutdown Cathy stubbornly repeated the narrative that she and her team are peddling: It is all the fault of the Senate and president. All the calm, reasonable souls of the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking is a little more conversation. The Senate has chosen, she wrote, to “ignore the majority of Americans who want Obamacare tied to the debate over government funding.”

Maybe she doesn’t know what a majority is. Or maybe she’s just sticking to the plan: Say anything.

This House is built on shifting sands. Even now, Shutdown Cathy’s cohort has stopped saying that Obamacare is the absolute battle line. Now it’s back to deficits and a budget deal – the previous foundation of the previous shutdown threats from these folks who so truly wish us to believe they do not desire a shutdown.

Here’s what we know: Some Republicans were planning – and you might even say dreaming of – a government shutdown months ago. The House has become a legislative netherworld, voting over and over again for impossibilities and staking out the furthest positions they can locate – and then turning up, all doe-eyed and faux innocent, at the press conferences to express their bafflement and hurt feelings over the failures of cooperation. They pushed the nation to this brink before, and they came to this particular negotiation with demands that were absolutely guaranteed to be non-starters.

That’s what we know. And here is what Shutdown Cathy has said: “The House acted early – and first – to keep the government open.” That was in USA Today. Also: “The Republicans are working hard every day to open up the government.” That was what she told NPR.

Of course, in January, back before she was saying what she’s saying now, Shutdown Cathy said this: “I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious. We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.”

Who would shut down the government? Never mind.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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