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April 20, 2014

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Knowing when to worry

I know you’re worried about the government shutting down on Oct. 1. Who wouldn’t be? Services suspended, the nation’s credibility damaged in the eyes of the rest of the world. What serious person would want to let that happen?

Hehehehe.

The better to plan your watchful worry, here’s a tentative schedule of events:

Wednesday, Sept. 25: House comes back from vacation. Early. So stop carping.

Thursday, Sept. 26: Senate is working its way toward a vote on the bill. Whoops! Somebody just objected to something. May take a little while longer.

Friday, Sept. 27: The House takes up a bill to raise the debt ceiling, thus allowing the government to continue paying its bills, which is tied to defunding Obamacare, and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Saturday, Sept. 28: The entire planet says: “Keystone pipeline?”

Sunday, Sept. 29: Maybe a day or two before, but around here — the Senate strips the Obamacare part from the bill funding the government, passes the bill and sends it back to the House.

Sept. 30: Last minute! Clock is ticking!

Oct. 1: Best-case scenario — the House passes the bill in the wee small hours of the morning. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and moves on to the question of whether the government’s ability to pay its debts should hinge on the construction of an oil pipe to the Gulf Coast.

One thing at a time. About keeping the government running: In the end, it’ll all be up to the House Republicans — pass a clean bill or dig in their heels and turn off the lights. “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

House leaders were less than thrilled with his advice. It was sort of like a guy who left the Alamo at the last minute, yelling “Victory or death!” as he galloped out of sight. Some people believe that Cruz is behind everything crazy going on in Washington right now. This is possibly true, if you work under the reasonable assumption that everything that happens in the world is based on a movie plot: “The Calgarian Candidate.”

During the Bush administration, agents of the Democratic Party hatch a long-term plot to ensure political ascendancy in the 21st century. Their secret tool: a Canadian-born Texas lawyer whom they kidnap and brainwash. The mole — we will call him T. — suddenly emerges out of political obscurity in 2012, propelled into the U.S. Senate by members of the Texas Republican Party who have also been secretly hypnotized by the Democratic operatives. The only sign of their transformation is a compulsion to say, “T. is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life,” over and over again. By the next year, Democrats decide they want to force the congressional Republicans to behave with breathtaking irresponsibility. Time to pull the trigger! While T. is standing alone at a Washington costume party, he is approached by a beautiful woman dressed as the Second Amendment. And then ...

Actually, the House Republicans have plenty of Tea Party patriots who are perfectly capable of being crazy all by themselves. Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida told The New York Times’ Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman that he was ready to stick to his guns: “It only takes one with passion — look at Rosa Parks, Lech Walesa, Martin Luther King.”

I am mentioning this partly because it isn’t often you hear someone equate eliminating health insurance for the poor with Rosa Parks. Also because I like to write “Rep. Ted Yoho.”

The bill the House sent to the Senate on Friday doesn’t even make much sense. The “defund Obamacare” part looks as though it was written by squirrels. If it became law, Obamacare would actually continue to exist. At most, the administration would be crippled in their early efforts to get younger uninsured Americans to sign up for health coverage. (This would presumably give the opposition more time to run those ads that show a young woman being given a pelvic exam by a monster Uncle Sam doll.) And, meanwhile, the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program would be thrown into chaos, as well as payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

But what the heck. No sacrifice is too great when the cause is convincing young adults that they shouldn’t buy health coverage.

It’s an intense moment, even by current political standards. When the Republicans met in conference Friday, Politico reported, Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania compared John Boehner to Jesus: “I don’t want this to be like Palm Sunday, where we bring the speaker in on a little donkey and then next Friday, we crucify him.”

I know, I’m having a hard time getting the image out of my mind, too.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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