Filler: Government shutdown comes from a noxious legislative brew

A sign outside Smithsonian National Museum in New A sign outside Smithsonian National Museum in New York City informs it is closed due to the government shutdown in New York City. (Oct. 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010 ...

House Speaker John Boehner is being manipulated by his more rabid Republican members. They want to stop Obamacare and are willing to bring the nation to a screeching halt via government shutdown and destroy our financial system with a debt default to make it happen. Or they just want to bring the federal government to a screaming halt, and stopping Obamacare is the cherry on top.

Regardless, watching it play out is going to make us feel like we just ate a poison ivy salad.

A bit of fault also goes to President Barack Obama. He postponed the part of Obamacare that made companies give health care to employees or face fines, but refused to postpone the requirement on those workers he's not making companies cover, to get their own insurance or pay fines. I don't know why, honestly. The mainstream media haven't asked him to explain it, which, since the president is protecting corporations like he's Mitt Romney hidden in a Barack Obama costume, is surprising.

To be fair, the media have been busy explaining the sociological significance of Miley Cyrus and twerking to a concerned public.

We've been here before, and recently. We now face world-altering deadlines and defining moments of truth so frequently they should be named like movie sequels: "Fiscal Cliff of Doom III: This Time it's About the Health Care."

We could have a solution, if we focus on the right problem.

That problem, and it goes beyond this particular crisis, is multiple-issue legislation. In this case, House Republicans started out with a bill that combined repealing Obamacare with funding the rest of the federal government, two pretty much unrelated issues. They have since doubled down, and are now willing to fund the government only if Obamacare is put off for a year, the Keystone XL pipeline is built, regulatory agencies are no longer allowed to impose regulations, "Duck Dynasty" gets a monument on the National Mall and Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate, wears a Yale sweatshirt every day for a month.

The idea is to force the opposition to grant something you want by tying it to something they want. In this case, the most extreme House Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, and Obama wants the United States to be a functioning nation-state, so . . . man, does this seem stupid when you actually type it. How is that a trade?

Multiple-issue legislation leads to those confusing, soulless campaign arguments:

Candidate 1: "My opponent voted to let pharmaceutical companies buy orphans and test skin treatments made of bubonic plague on their faces."

Candidate 2: "No, I voted to fund bandages for soldiers who get blown up. The 'Plague for Orphans Amendment' was tacked on as a rider."

The "One Subject at a Time Act," which is an actual bill introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), would require each bill to be about only one subject, and stand or fall on its merits.

Many states have such rules in their constitutions, excluding only budget legislation , because having a separate bill for every budget item is impossible. Fair enough. But every substantive policy and funding issue should be voted on separately.

With about 5 percent of congressional races truly competitive, politicians know compromise, which can be used against them during a primary, doesn't pay. If compromise doesn't pay, then multiple-issue bills, rather than guaranteeing multiple things get done at once, guarantee that nothing does. And all of this seems to be getting worse, not better.

If we can't improve the players, we have to fix the game.

You also may be interested in: