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On two crucial issues this week, the extremists who dominate the Republican majority in the House of Representatives made it clear how little interest they have in the future prosperity of their country, or its reputation for fairness and decency.
The House will refuse to consider a comprehensive immigration bill that could lead to citizenship for millions of immigrants, Republican leaders said on Wednesday, and will slowly and casually consider a few border-security measures that have no chance of passing on their own.
And, on Thursday, the House passed a farm bill that stripped out the food stamp program, breaking a pact that for decades has protected the nutrition needs of low-income Americans. It was the first time since 1973 that food stamps haven't been part of a farm bill, and it reflected the contempt of the far right for anyone desperate enough to rely on the government for help to buy groceries.
These actions show how far the House has retreated from the national mainstream into a cave of indifference and ignorance. House members don�t want to know that millions of Americans remain hungry (in an economy held back by their own austerity ideology), and they don't want to deal with the desperation of immigrant families who want nothing more than a chance to work and feed themselves without fear of deportation.
On both issues, in fact, many House Republicans are proudly asserting that they will stand in the way of any attempts to conduct a conference with the Senate. That might, after all, lead to a compromise.
Few things sum up the attitude of the current crop of Republicans in Washington than their loathing of conference committees. On issue after issue, they have passed radical bills and then refused to negotiate. On Thursday, for example, Senate Republicans refused for the 16th time to allow the Democratic Senate budget to be negotiated with its dangerously stingy counterpart in the House.
On immigration, House members fear a conference with the Senate would add back the pathway to citizenship that they consider a giveaway to undesirable non-English speakers. The eventual House border bills "should not be handed to a conference committee so that they can be reconciled with the Senate bill," wrote Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Instead, he and others say, the Senate should be forced to take up whatever the House produces.
Similarly, on the farm bill, Democrats said Republicans are insisting on conditions to a conference that would limit, in advance, the size of the food stamp program that the Senate could restore in negotiations. Clearly they are listening to bad advisers like the right-wing group Heritage Action for America, which warned on Thursday that a farm-bill compromise �will be very appealing to big-government liberals and appalling to conservatives who should be trying to reduce the size and scope of government."
A refusal to even to sit at a bargaining table is another way of refusing to govern. The nation's founders created two chambers for a reason, but Republicans, in their blind fury to harm the least fortunate, are forgetting even those fundamental national values.