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Basu: Senate women showed leadership in ending shutdown

Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), foreground, walks across

Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), foreground, walks across the East Front of the Capitol during the federal government shutdown. (Oct. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: EPA

Those big boys in the nation's Capitol sure showed everyone who's boss, didn't they? That is, until the surrogate mothers in the Senate stepped in to call an end to the nonsense, made them pick up their toy guns and head on home.

The ideological zealots were more than willing to make the whole nation suffer, just to take a symbolic stand against the Affordable Care Act and President Barack Obama. But the six bipartisan women, led by Susan Collins of Maine, did what women have been doing since the beginning of time: They took the kids in hand and negotiated a compromise for the greater good.

"Leadership, I must fully admit," said Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican and one of the 14 senators led by Collins to develop a plan to end the shutdown, "was provided primarily by women in the Senate."

The plan also temporarily raised the debt ceiling without tampering with the Affordable Care Act. "What I find is, with all due deference to our male colleagues, that women's styles tend to be more collaborative," said Collins, who has been willing to reach across the aisle on contentious issues before.

This isn't to suggest that women are intrinsically more noble or rational. But centuries of having to find alternate ways of accomplishing things when women lacked institutional power have taught critical survival skills, including the art of compromise and putting their own egos aside.

The Senate women led without calling attention to themselves -- unlike Texas tea party Sen. Ted Cruz, who commandeered the Senate microphone for 21 hours of spotlight, making such salient arguments against health-care expansion as, "I do not like green eggs and ham." This might be comical if the consequences of the government shutdown were not so dire. In 16 days, it cost the economy between $12 billion and $24 billion in jobs, sales, mortgages and more. It spooked the stock market, diminished our world standing and left families struggling to feed their children.

None of that mattered to the tea party hardliners, who are supposed to at least care about losing money. They were just concerned about staking out their ideological turf for the next elections. Now Cruz is taking his show on the road, fixing for a possible presidential run.

Nor do they seem to have learned anything, even in defeat. Cruz blames the "Washington establishment" for surrendering, and House Speaker John Boehner still talks about fighting "the good fight." One hopes, however, that the nation has learned some lessons from the whole ugly charade. One is that it doesn't really matter if a politician self-identifies as "moderate" if he or she refuses to speak out against the fringe. While older, more mainstream Republican senators like McCain and Utah's Orrin Hatch may have no love for Obamacare, they didn't support holding the budget hostage until it was defunded.

Yet Boehner, who also didn't support it, went along with the radicals. Even when he had the votes to pass a budget, he refused to bring it up for a vote for fear of losing his leadership post.

As Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican and one of the peacemakers, put it: "This should not be about someone's speakership. This should not be about the next election. This should be about the future of our country, where we are right now. We are shut down as a government. We are facing a debt crisis." Whatever you think about Obamacare or Obama himself, the defund strategy was doomed to failure all along because it is already the law. Yet as McCain has noted, many of the hardline Republican representatives won election in 2010 by promising to take it down -- a promise they could never deliver. It reminds me of a kid who campaigned -- and won -- as president of a Des Moines elementary school years ago by promising his schoolmates a swimming pool. That wasn't a promise the kid could keep either.

At least the 9-year-old had the class to admit that.

Contact Rekha Basu, a Des Moines Register columnist, at


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