Reps. Ann Wagner (R-2) and Jason Smith (R-8) want furloughed federal workers to know that they too share the pain of the government shutdown. The two Republican Missouri lawmakers, along with Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, have joined the other congessmen and women – 138 as of last Friday – who decided that something had to be done about the bad smell that was rising from the Republican shutdown and contaminating all of Washington D.C. These legislators have all publicly stated that for the duration of the shutdown they will either defer their congressional salaries or donate them to charity.
It ought to mean a lot to those federal employees, many of whom live pay-check to pay-check and who now have to scrape by on nothing, that congressmen whose median net worth hovers at around a $1 million want to make a symbolic gesture in their direction. Wagner, for example, is actually one of the wealthiest members of the House.
The gesture on the part of the 73 Republicans participating in this exercise in optics might mean more if they were also willing to end the standoff that they started with their outrageous ultimatums. As it is, it stands as a classic example of too little, too late and no way to make amends.
If, to return to the example of Ann Wagner, she really cared about the mess she has helped her party create, she could lean on the House leadership to bring a clean budgetary continuing resolution (CR) to the floor – which could pass with the support of Democrats and those Republicans who have already signalled their disgust with their party’s antics. Or she could stand up and let her colleagues and the GOP leadership know that she would support a discharge petition and vote for the CR if Nancy Pelosi tries to use that tactic to bring it to the floor.
Instead, as today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, Wagner is “out front pressing Democrats to negotiate on the Affordable Care Act before she will agree to end the shutdown.” And even worse, as a Post-Dispatch editorial observed last week, shutdown cheerleader Wagner may be motivated as much by perceived political exigency as from conviction. Astutely assigning blame for the current shutdown, the PD observed that:
Narrowly the blame here lies with the approximately three dozen Republicans from solidly safe districts who have confused right-wing messaging with leadership. They are joined by several dozen more GOP members, including Ann Wagner of Ballwin, who are more worried about primary challenges from the right than fulfilling their constitutional duties. They are putting personal political interests ahead of the public interest.
Refusing to take an unneeded salary in order to defer criticism? A so-so gesture at best. Actually trying to do the best thing for one’s constituents and one’s country? Priceless – and, in today’s GOP, very, very rare.