In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.
During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner threatened:
His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.
Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked relentlessly to strike a compromise–and finally reached one.
Three months later–on July 9–Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met.
Sign of the Black Hand extortion gang
President Obama had offered to make historic cuts in the federal government and the social safety net–on which millions of Americans depend for their most basic needs.
But House Speaker John Boehner rejected that offer. He could not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner
As the calendar moved ever closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”
President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members:
- The “Grand Bargain” choice—favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
- A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
- The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
And the Republican response?
Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”
Noted political analyst Chris Matthews summed up the sheer criminality of what happened within the House of Representatives.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on July 28–five days before Congress reached its August 2 deadline to raise the debt-ceiling–Matthews noted:
“The first people to bow to the demands of those threatening to blow up the economy were the Republicans in the House, the leaders. The leaders did what the followers told them to do: meet the demands, hold up the country to get their way.
“Those followers didn’t win the Senate, or the Presidency, just the House.
“But by using the House they were able to hold up the entire United States government. They threatened to blow things up economically and it worked.
“They said they were willing to do that–just to get their way–not by persuasion, not by politics, not by democratic government, but by threatening the destruction of the country’s finances.
“Right. So what’s next? The power grid? Will they next time threaten to close down the country’s electricity and communications systems?”
With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced two choices:
- Counter Republican extortion and terrorism via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Oganizations Act–and the USA Patriot Act; or
- Cave in to Republican extortion/terrorist demands.
Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Two.
Had President Obama chosen to prosecute Republicans for extortion, he would have found ample legal basis for this in the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Passed by Congress in 1970 to combat the Mafia, RICO outlines a series of crimes which can be prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Among these: Extortion, which is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”
Threatening to destroy the Nation’s credit rating definitely qualifies as coercion.
And if President Obama had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.
In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism as “Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
Clearly, Right-wing members of Congress were intending “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation.” And there’s no denying that such Congressional members operate “within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.
Unfortunately, he lacked the courage to do so.
In September, 2015, Republicans threatened once again to shut down the government unless Democrats agreed to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
Disaster was averted at the last minute when Democrats joined Republicans opposed to a shutdown and voted to fund the government through December 11.
Andrew Jackson once said: “One man with courage makes a majority.” President Obama can avert disaster in December by finding the courage to prosecute those who engage in extortion and terrorism as politics-as-usual.
Such prosecutions–and especially convictions–will serve notice on current and future members of Congress: The safety–physical and economic–of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.