Beware gifts from friends

As long time readers of this blog probably know, I worked for many years in Virginia state government and I grew up in Virginia politics.  OK, so the Virginia laws on accepting gifts may be a little murky, but every state employee I’ve ever known understands that one cannot accept anything of any value from anyone with whom one does business.  The constituent who sends Christmas candy, for example, to thank you for providing some information.  That candy can be accepted if shared with the office.  You can’t take it home.  Plus you should consult the assistant attorney general assigned to your office so there is a record.

A former governor and former state attorney general should know this.  Bob McDonnell likely did and decided he was above the law.  He isn’t.  At least he isn’t above indictment.  The Washington Post published a list of the most interesting of the counts.  Here are some of them.  It begins with shopping.

April 11-13, 2011: The dress and a seat next to the governor

Maureen McDonnell called Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. on April 11 and asked him to take her on a shopping trip to New York to buy a dress by designer Oscar de la Renta. The first lady explained that she was attending a political event at the Union League Club in New York two days later and promised to get Williams seated next to McDonnell (R). On the shopping trip, Williams accompanied the first lady to numerous designer stores and spent $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, more than $5,500 at Louis Vuitton and roughly $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman for dresses and accessories that McDonnell said she needed for her daughter’s wedding and for her own anniversary party. Williams was seated next to the governor at the Union League Club event.

May 9-June 1, 2011: Receiving checks from Williams and promoting his company

A member of the governor’s staff indicated May 9 that the staff was considering plans to have McDonnell visit a Star Scientific promotional event on June 1 in Florida. “[T]he person inviting the Governor is a good friend so I would like to be as responsive as possible,” the staff member wrote. A staff member told the company that the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding, the same week as the corporate event, would make the trip impossible.

“I’m so sorry this won’t work out! What else can we do to fix this?” the staff member wrote.

On May 17, Maureen McDonnell scheduled herself to attend the promotional event.

On May 23, Williams had his office assistant write two checks, for $50,000 and for $15,000 as a wedding gift, and delivered them in person to the governor’s mansion.

On June 1, Maureen McDonnell attended the company’s promotional event in Sarasota, Fla., which was also attended by numerous Star Scientific investors, and announced that she was offering the governor’s mansion for the official product launch of Anatabloc.

August 2011: The Rolex, free golf and a product launch

On Aug. 1, Maureen McDonnell met privately with Williams before the state health official’s briefing to discuss ways that the state could research Star Scientific’s Anatabloc product. The first lady asked about the Rolex watch that Williams was wearing and mentioned that she wanted to get one for her husband, but Williams expressed surprise that the governor would want to wear a luxury item, given his role as a public official. The first lady responded that she wanted Williams to buy her one to give to the governor. Soon afterward, he did buy the watch and called the first lady to ask what she wanted engraved on the Rolex. She replied: “71st Governor of Virginia.” The same day, the governor’s wife entered an electronic calendar event for herself to attend an Aug. 30 luncheon with Virginia state researchers.

On Aug. 12, Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff arranged for the governor to attend the Aug. 30 luncheon.

On Aug. 30, the governor and his wife played host at a luncheon at the governor’s mansion for the launch of Anatabloc. Williams helped craft the guest list, which included some of the same University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University research scientists whom Star Scientific was trying to persuade to conduct clinical trials of Anatabloc. The first lady and Williams placed Anatabloc samples at each table setting.

January-February 2012: Big loans to the McDonnells and a push for state research:

In late January, the governor’s brother-in-law e-mailed him to say that “the guy who is helping us” had contacted him about where to send the first check he planned to provide for MoBo, a real estate holding company that McDonnell owned with his sister.

On Feb. 9, the first lady e-mailed her husband and copied his senior policy adviser under the subject heading: “FW: Anatabine clinical studies – UVA, VCU, JHU.” In her message, she wrote: “Here’s the info from JW. He has calls in to VCU & UVA & no one will return his calls.”

The next day, she asked her husband’s policy adviser to please call Williams that same day and “get him to fill u in on where this is at. Gov wants to know why nothing has developed w studies after [JW] gave $200,000

Thanks, -mm.”

The McDonnells

Jeff Schapiro wrote in his column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the indictment Tuesday, a picture emerges of McDonnell as a politician who rationalizes his behavior. This is a man who apparently told himself that — because Williams had become an intimate and because gifts from friends do not have to be disclosed under state law — he could conceal from the public beneficence that it would almost certainly deem indefensible.

And it was behind that screen, the indictment argues, that an elaborate scheme unfolded — one in which the government of Virginia, following enthusiastic assurances by Maureen McDonnell to Williams, pledged to support his money-losing company.

Was it the Governor’s wife who was the real driving force behind all of this?  Did they have financial problems all along?  Did they see election to Governor as a signal they needed to live the life of the rich?  Will Governor Bob “Ultrasound” McDonnell end up in federal prison?  I guess we will find out.

Photograph:  Bob Brown, Richmond Times Dispatch

Winners and losers

Not talking about baseball today but about  the 16 day drive toward the fiscal cliff.   One of my favorite commentators, Ana Marie Cox, has compiled a list that you can see in its entirety here in the Guardian.  You can agree with her or not about her choices, but she gives us some things to think about.  Here are my favorites among Cox’s choices.

Winners

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz. The punchline for a thousand Twitter humorists and the lead for most of the many stories about GOP dysfunction, Cruz is laughing in that whiny way of his all the way to the campaign war chest. He raised over $1m in the third quarter that ended 1 October, before the shutdown, half of it through the new “Ted Cruz Victory Committee” formed last year specifically to benefit from Cruz’s “defund Obamacare” petition. Cruz’s floor speech before the Senate vote seemed to imply that the fundraising was continuing at that pace; he referred to the “millions of millions [sic] of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare”. The online petition is also an email harvesting gambit from the Senate Conservative Fund, the PAC that helped bring Cruz to Washington in the first place.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid. The former pugilist only won a technical knockout, but that’s probably the way the Senate majority leader likes it. That Reid’s compact and focused rage held Democrats together and in chorus was obvious from the outside. Senator Dick Durbin’s insinuation that we will “never know, you will never know, how much he put in to accomplish this” only ups the suspicions about the incredible power Reid wields.

Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Drudge called it, naming the Democratic congresswoman from California the once and future Speaker of the House. In other words, Matt Drudge thinks the Democrats have a serious chance of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms. Or, you know, he could have been trolling us.

John McCain

John McCain. The septuagenarian’s bipolar relationship with the media started on the upswing with his early ridicule of Cruz (though now Cruz wears “wackobird” as a badge of honor). With the threat of a shutdown, the love affair really flared back up. McCain gave both earnest indictments of the strategy and exasperated quips. He dusted off the chestnut that congressional popularity is down to “paid staffers and blood relatives” and declared sarcastically of the GOP, “We’re livin’ the dream.”

And now the

Losers

majority rule

Majority rule. While the fundamental principle of democracy seems to have survived the 16-day crisis, the fact of the shutdown and the tiny minority of congressmen that created it, the Tea Party Republicans of the House have nonetheless managed to poke serious holes in the constitution they hold so dear. Presumably, the second amendment was left unscathed.

economic principles

Economic principles. People who didn’t even know what the debt limit was last month now think it’s some kind of conspiracy. Even as the US dodged a bullet this time – though suffering the collateral damage of further credit-rating downgrades – one can’t help feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the GOP’s new caucus of “debt default skeptics”.

apples and oranges

“False equivalence” reporting. James Fallows at the Atlantic documented some of the worst offenders and as “it’s everybody’s fault” became a Republican talking point, many media critics joined him in denouncing the faux-even-handedness as actually putting a finger on the scale. The “serious people” trope (as in, “serious people are above partisan bickering”) popularized by op-ed writers such as Michael Kinsley and Ron Fournier became especially ridiculous as the crisis wore on. Kinsley’s column beseeching Obama to “give in” to Republicans “for the sake of the country” (“media will no doubt call Obama weak”!) should be taught as a cautionary example against this desire to be “taken seriously”.

gop logo

The GOP. I mean, really.

This effort has only cost us an estimated 24 Billion dollars (and counting) and there is no saying that it won’t happen again in January.  It drives me nuts that the President is blamed by many while Ted Cruz used me – and everyone else who pays taxes and needs government services – to raise money for his 2016 Presidential bid.  But the silver lining is that if the Democrats get to work, it looks like they can hold on to the Senate and take back the House.  And then John Boehner will really have something to cry about.

Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

Can we send David Ortiz to the budget negotiations?

It has been a discouraging last few days with the only real bright spot being Friday (and then we went back Saturday) at Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We wanted to hear Thomas Ades, Polaris a second time and Friday night the BSO did not do Franck’s Symphony in D Minor which my husband loves.   But we came home Saturday night to no budget/debt ceiling deal and the Red Sox striking out, also.  I often tune in to some of the Sunday news shows, but couldn’t stand to hear any more Republican Congresspersons who have no clue about what the debt ceiling is much less understand any thing about the economy.  One of my friends posted this on Facebook the other day

Despite their lofty status in managing American affairs, it appears to me that few Congresspersons have any meaningful understanding of how their chronic politicization of economic policies substantially degrades, perhaps permanently, the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. Evidence of the dollar’s decline to a commodity status is increasingly apparent. In time, every American will feel a crippling pain that no amount of political negotiating can cure.

Given this state of things, I retreated to a game of Civilization V where I could control, more or less, my own universe until after Sunday dinner when the Red Sox could take over.  But, after watching strike out after strike out with Clay Buchholz pitching sooo very slowly while getting slammed around in the sixth, I retreated.  I woke up just before 6 am this morning having just had a dream that I woke up and the Sox had come back.  I turned on the radio, I found that is was true!

Peter Abraham explains

In what has been a season full of memorable late-inning victories at Fenway Park, the Red Sox saved the best for when they needed it the most in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Sunday night.

Trailing by four runs against the Detroit Tigers, the Sox tied the game on a grand slam by David Ortiz in the eighth inning then won it, 6-5, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to drive in Jonny Gomes in the ninth.

The remarkable victory had the players chasing Saltalamacchia across the outfield and the sellout crowd of 38,029 chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” as they left Fenway.

“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight. We’re gonna fight,” Dustin Pedroia said.

That wall was hard to get over. The Sox had scored one run through the 16 innings in the series, going 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starter Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over seven innings and struck out 13.

And then.

Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field off Jose Veras to start the rally. Then Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk off Drew Smyly.

Al Albuquerque was next out of the Detroit bullpen. He struck out Shane Victorino for the second out, but Pedroia singled to right. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held Middlebrooks, wanting to make sure Ortiz got his chance.

Ortiz swung at the first pitch, a changeup away, and was strong enough to pull it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for his first career postseason grand slam and the fourth in Red Sox history.

Right fielder Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall trying to make a catch as Boston police officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in joy. Bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, who was warming up Koji Uehara, casually turned and caught the ball.

It was bedlam at Fenway and the crowd kept cheering until Ortiz emerged from the dugout and tipped his helmet to them.

“My idea wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam,” Ortiz said. “If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I’d be lying to you now.”

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

Gotta love David.

There was still a game to win. After Uehara retired the Tigers in order, Gomes was again the catalyst.

He reached on an infield single off Rick Porcello and took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Sox player known for his defensive skills.

“No is not an option for this team,” Gomes said. “Once I got on second, I was going to do anything I could to score.”

Gomes advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Saltalamacchia singled to left field.

“I felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “Trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”

It was the 12th walkoff win of the season for the Red Sox.

So now we have something to watch on the highlight reels other than strike out after strike out.  There is joy in Mudville after all.  The Red Sox head for Detroit to face Justin Verlander, still another one of the Tigers’ great pitchers.  Let’s end this with something to ponder.  My husband heard Verlander ask this question:  If a pitch grazes a Red Sox’s beard, did he get hit by the pitch?

Now if only someone would hit a grand slam on the budget and knock out Ted Cruz and his friends.

Photograph:  Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The government shutdown: a letter from Congressman Capuano

I am posting the entire weekly email newsletter I just got from my Congressman, Mike Capuano.    I am proud to say that he was my boss for several years when he was the Mayor of Somerville.

Dear Friends,

The government shutdown is in its fourth day. Speaker Boehner still refuses to bring up a clean Continuing Resolution (CR), even though it would pass Congress and be signed by the President, reopening the government.

The House has spent most of this week considering bills to partially fund the government. This process is more about appearances than responsible legislating. That’s why you’ve seen attempts to fund the National Park Service so tourist attractions can reopen but not the Transportation Department. The Senate and President have both rejected this path. I’m not sure where or when this all ends. It’s certainly true that this battle is about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the obsession many Republicans have with sabotaging it. I think there’s more to it though.

This is also about one of the fundamental principles of our government, the idea of majority rule. The importance of that principle is vividly on display here and it’s one worth protecting.

The ACA was signed into law in 2010 after months and months of substantive and at times contentious debate. Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, there have been 42 attempts to repeal, defund or gut the law. Each time the effort has accomplished essentially nothing. As I noted earlier this week, Mitt Romney ran on a promise to repeal “Obamacare”. He lost the election. House Democrats got more votes than House Republicans and Democrats retained control of the Senate. The ACA was even declared constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Despite all of that, a small percentage of the House Republican Caucus refuses to accept the will of the majority, democratically expressed. They shut the government down because they can’t accept it. The ACA is the law of the land, affirmed by the results of a national election and a Supreme Court ruling. More and more moderate Republicans are speaking out on the need for a clean CR. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of those moderate voices and the extremists in the House continue to drown them out.

Imagine what our government would look like if more Members refused to respect the principle of majority rule and insisted on getting their way without regard for the consequences. It wouldn’t be 17 years between government shutdowns, that’s for sure.

I believe that this battle is also about the role that government should play in our lives. Do we want to provide some help to those less fortunate in the form of nutrition assistance or home heating aid? Do we want to help our states build world class roads, bridges and subway systems? Do we want to attract cutting edge research that results in medical advances? All of that takes an investment of federal dollars.

What has been happening over the past couple years is a steady and steep reduction in federal spending. That often gets lost in the din but numbers don’t lie. In two years, a total deficit reduction of almost $2.4 trillion has been achieved. In 2011, the Budget Control Act placed a cap on discretionary spending at $1.066 trillion for fiscal year 2014. That cap has been ignored by the House, with much deeper cuts going into effect as a result of sequestration.

Here are just a couple examples of how those cuts have impacted some important programs. In the past year, funding for the National Institutes of Health has been cut by $1.6 billion. Funding for Head Start has been cut by $400 million.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a budget that proposed spending $1.058 trillion for fiscal year 2014. Under the clean CR proposed in the Senate in order to reopen the government, that spending is cut to $986 billion. This is much closer to the Republican proposal than the Senate’s.

In terms of cutting spending, Republicans don’t seem to recognize that they are gaining significant ground. The CR that many of them say they won’t support includes deep cuts to discretionary programming.

More votes are expected in the House tomorrow and the schedule for next week is unclear. Thanks for your calls and emails of support. I appreciate all of them.

Best,

Mike

English: Official Congressional portrait for C...

English: Official Congressional portrait for Congressman Mike Capuano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cartoonists view the government shutdown

We need to keep a sense of humor about things so we can survive this Republican tantrum.  Here is my contribution.

Dan Wasserman from the Boston Glove.

101toon_wasserman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick Anderson on Ted Cruz.

Anderson on Cruz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlson on Infant nutrition.

Carlson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new axis of evil?

luckovich

Trying to made sense of it all

I think I may be ready to retreat to my cocoon to read trashy books and watch baseball and reruns of NCIS before my head explodes from trying to make sense of what is going on out there.

Yesterday, Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker had a little anecdote from my Congressperson, Mike Capuano.

…Capuano said he was in an airport last weekend flying home from Washington when a TSA screener stopped him and said, “You really need to cut our taxes!” Capuano was incredulous to hear that from a federal employee, though he probably shouldn’t have been.

“I asked him, ‘Do you know taxes pay your salary?’ ” Capuano said with a laugh.

I wish I knew what the silly TSA screener said then.  It is an example of how divorced from reality so many people are.  Maybe we should expand the shut down to include furloughs for half of the screeners.  This would cut flights so many of the members of Congress would have trouble getting home.  I don’t think this would be a bad thing.  Maybe if they stayed in Washington more, they would figure out how to talk to each other informally over a beer.  That could only help.  Maybe some of them would get a grip on reality.

As I was getting ready to write this, I Googled  both “Republican Alternate Reality” and “Republican Alternate Universe”.  Turns out people have been writing about the topic for a number of years now.  It is one thing to talk sans facts, but another to act.  And what is happening now is the action that they have all wanted:  a government shutdown.  I think they are hoping that a few weeks without government will show people they can live without it.  Maybe a good plan except that there are already Republicans complaining that monuments in Washington are closed so veterans can’t visit them.  Duh!

Back in August 2012 (2012 not 2013), Michael Cohen wrote a piece in the Guardian about the Presidential campaign.  If you recall, they had a slogan “You didn’t build that”.

On 17 July, President Barack Obama spoke at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia. It was a typical event for an incumbent president who is seeking a second term. In his remarks, he offered his vision of government’s role in spurring entrepreneurship and creating jobs in the United States:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet.”

This is all fairly boilerplate rhetoric – a basic recitation of how Democrats view the role of government and its interplay with the private sector. But in this statement, there was one phrase that Republicans have grabbed on to like a famished dog with a new bone:

“You didn’t build that.”

That single phrase, taken out of context by Republicans, has become the GOP’s symbol of Obama’s supposed contempt for the free market and entrepreneurship, and for his socialist assault on America.

The Affordable Care Act is a prime example of government overreach and socialism even though it is built on private insurance companies.

“You didn’t build that” became “We built that”

And so, the Republicans made “We built that” the theme of Tuesday’s convention proceedings. Speaker after speaker hammered on this theme, accusing Obama of disrespecting small business. But they did so with almost a wilful sense of hypocrisy. For example, Delaware lieutenant governor candidate Sher Valenzuela attacked Obama for the line despite the fact that, just a few months ago, she gave a detailed speech to a business group about how they could do a better job getting government contracts.

Cohen goes on to detail a number of instances where the speakers at the Republican Convention ignored facts and concludes

But all of this is at pace with a conservative worldview that considers government to be nothing more than malevolent interference with the smooth operation of the private sector – except when it’s not. “Jobs don’t come from government,” said Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz last night, a view that basically sums up GOP economic thinking. But if you listened to Republican governors on Tuesday, you might have found yourself surprised to discover that, in their states, the government has played an oddly integral role in spurring job creation. If you listened to Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, extol the virtues of the energy industry in her state and bemoan “more government, bigger spending and more regulation”, you might never know that the oil and gas industry is deeply reliant on – and spends millions lobbying for – tax breaks from the federal government.

One can believe that government should play a less direct role in the workings of the private economy – clearly, this is a defensible notion. But to listen to Republicans harping on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line is to hear a party that views “government” in the most simplistic imaginable terms. This isn’t a governing philosophy; it’s a caricature of how the economy actually works.

To be sure, it’s hardly unusual for political rhetoric to take liberties with the truth, or to stretch an argument to breaking-point, but with Republicans today, the issues runs much deeper. Very simply, the way they talk about what the federal government does or should do, and about the role of spending, taxation and regulation, is more than just a compendium of lies: it describes an alternate reality.

In the GOP’s defense: at least they can argue they built that.

So now they have shutdown the federal government which was a goal all along.  They built it.  And in their alternate universe, President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership should negotiate with them.  Nancy Pelosi has tried to explain what she calls “regular order”:  The Senate passes a bill.  Then the House passes one.  Then there is a conference committee.  Budget bills were passed back in March, but the House declined to appoint members to a conference committee.  Contrary to what some members of Congress seem to believe there are rules and conventions as to how to proceed.

Gail Collins has a response in the New York Times.

On Wednesday, House Republicans pushed to refund bits and pieces of the government that the members particularly like, such as veterans and the National Guard. Also anything that lends itself to a dramatic press conference, such as national parks and cancer treatment for children. Since the House proposals are never going anywhere in the Senate, there’s a limit to what you want to know about what went on during the debate. Let’s summarize:

Democrats: “Meaningless political theater!”

Republicans: “Come to the table!”

Coming to the table has now replaced strangling Obamacare as the most popular G.O.P. war cry. There is a longstanding political rule that when all else fails, you demand more talking. If you’re running for office against a guy who’s got 70 percent in the polls, it’s time to call for a debate. If you’re already having four debates, it’s time to call for six.

“Why don’t we sit down and have a conference committee about how we’re going to fund the federal government?” demanded Representative Ander Crenshaw of Florida. Republicans have posed this question a lot, and it would be an excellent one if they were not the same folks who have spent the last half-year refusing to sit down and have a conference committee about the federal budget.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday with his security personnel on the third day of the government shutdown.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday with his security personnel on the third day of the government shutdown.

I’ll give the final word on reality to Elizabeth Kolbert in her New Yorker posted this morning.

…Shuttering the government is a dumb idea under pretty much any circumstances. Still, the objections that Republicans in Congress raise to the health-care law might be worth considering if they bore any relationship to the law in question. Rarely do they.

Some lawmakers’ comments have been so off the wall that they defy parody. A few months ago, for example, Representative Michele Bachmann announced on the House floor that Obamacare needed to be repealed “before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

“Let’s not do that,” she added helpfully. “Let’s love people.”

“All of this would be funny,” President Obama noted the other day, after bringing up the Bachmann line, “if it weren’t so crazy.”

The crazy list goes on and on. As the economist Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out in his Times column, congressional Republicans these days seem to think that they can override not just the laws of physics but also the rules of arithmetic. They insist that the federal budget is so bloated it could easily be cut by hundreds of billions of dollars. But when a transportation bill was drafted this summer that would have actually reduced spending, they refused to vote for it. (The bill had to be pulled from the floor.) It’s hard to cut the federal budget if you’re not willing to reduce the amount of money the government spends. “What Republicans really want to do,” Krugman wrote recently, is “repeal reality.”

It’s been so long since reality has made much of a difference on Capitol Hill that it sometimes seems it genuinely has been repealed. But the thing you can always count on with reality is that it has staying power.

I hope I can hold out until reality and fact make a comeback.

Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times