North Alabama depends heavily on Defense Department dollars, and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks has been vocal in his complaints that it was the fault of Democrats that thousands of his constituents were on furlough because of the government shutdown. Brooks, R-Huntsville, is voicing support for hard-working Defense Department civilians and defense contractors. The disruption in their paychecks is damaging the north Alabama economy and the nation.
We hope, however, that those on furlough did not miss the irony of Brooks’ complaints.
Brooks is one of about three dozen far-right members of the U.S. House of Representatives that created this mess.
The government shut down for a single reason. A small group of Republicans — a minority of the House — refused to continue even short-term funding of the government without also disabling the Affordable Care Act.
We believe the ACA — which was passed by Congress almost four years ago and is less than three months away from providing insurance to millions of uninsured Americans — is a first step toward essential reforms in a broken health care system. Some think it will be a disaster. Either way, in the hands of Brooks and his most-extreme colleagues, it is nothing but a political football. They have staked their political reputations on the failure of the law known as Obamacare, but they are unwilling to let the reforms play out.
A few House Republicans balanced the political points they could score by taking one more stab at Obamacare and decided it outweighed the potentially devastating consequences to their constituents of a shutdown.
The latest claim by Brooks and his colleagues in districts heavily dependent on the Defense Department was that the furloughs were all President Barack Obama’s fault. He could, they argued, keep Defense Department civilians and defense contractors on the job despite the shutdown.
Their argument was based on the Pay Our Military Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president Sept. 30, on the eve of the shutdown. The two-page act appropriated “such sums as are necessary to provide pay and allowances to the civilian personnel of the Department of Defense (who) are providing support to members of the Armed Forces.”
The hastily passed legislation did not explain what sort of “support to members of the Armed Forces” qualified. It provided no guidance on how the Pentagon was supposed to apply it to 400,000 furloughed employees, many of whom have some duties that arguably qualify as “support” and other duties that do not.
Thankfully, the Pentagon on Saturday used the law to order most of its furloughed employees back to work. Brooks, who routinely lambastes Obama for dictatorial overreach, may be all for the expansive use of executive power in interpreting this law. But Obama also must placate 534 other members of Congress — not all in defense-heavy districts — and a judiciary.
The president, thankfully, stretched a last-minute act of Congress to benefit thousands in north Alabama who faced indefinite furloughs.
What is clear, though, is that none of this would be necessary if Brooks and his colleagues would quit using Obamacare as a tool to sabotage effective governance.