Our Opinion: Of shutdowns, compromise and principles

Republican demands to derail the federal Affordable Care Act, ironically, have shut down a number of government operations, but not implementation of the health care law.

In that regard, the partial government shutdown is not unlike a hostage situation, where the shutdown is not the goal, but the means to attain the goal.

President Obama — author of the signature health care law also known as “Obamacare” — used that analogy when he said: “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, ... or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like.”

This intractable, largely partisan impasse — the first partial U.S. government shutdown since the winter of 1995-96 — raises some fundamental questions about governing.

And, ultimately, those questions are about us, the voters, and about our reasons for selecting representation at the local, state and federal levels.

Do we want a representative who adheres to principle or one who is willing to compromise? Both character traits can be strengths or weaknesses, depending on circumstances.

The case can be made that the creation and ascension of the tea party is a response to voters seeking representatives who will assert conservative principles in an uncompromising fashion.

Those voters believe the federal government has become bloated, bureaucratic and intrusive.

Emboldened by that sentiment among conservative constituents, the GOP majority in the House, thus far, is standing firm in its anti-Obamacare demands.

But voters also re-elected Obama, after passage of the health care law, and a Democratic majority in the Senate.

And, in the Senate, Newton’s third law of physics — “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — was evident; House proposals repeatedly were rejected.

The effects of the stalemate will vary and depend largely on who you are and what you do.

Furloughed federal employees, visitors to national parks and monuments, and users of some federal services and websites will suffer.

But, members of the military, air traffic controllers, border patrol agents and congressmen will remain on the job and be paid. The Postal Service will operate, Social Security benefits will continue, and health care providers will receive Medicaid and Medicare fees.

And, although the Affordable Care Act — which began enrolling people in health care exchanges Tuesday — may be the cause of the shutdown, it is not a victim.

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