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Times Picayune: Opinion: House members driving government shutdown are hurting the nation

By Mary Landrieu, Contributing Op-Ed columnist

October 11, 2013

On a cold Boston evening just before Christmas 1773, a group of angry and determined patriots threw hundreds of chests of tea overboard into the Boston Harbor, demonstrating their opposition to "taxation without representation" and demanding the right of self-rule. But today's misguided Tea Party leaders are now throwing that self-rule overboard, holding their own government hostage and damaging the reputation of the United States.

This August, 80 Tea Party Republican members of the House, including three from Louisiana -- Reps. Scalise, Fleming and Cassidy -- signed a letter calling to shut the government down unless the Affordable Care Act was defunded. Because they were not able to convince enough of their colleagues to do so, they have shut down the federal government and now threaten to push our promising and much needed economic recovery over the cliff by saying no to paying our bills.

Reasonable people can have various opinions about the best way to provide high quality and affordable health care to working and middle class families in Louisiana and small businesses that serve as the backbone of our economy. I have said repeatedly that the Affordable Care Act isn't perfect, but it is a significant upgrade to the old health care system that cost too much, covered too few and left working families one medical emergency away from financial ruin. But even if you disagree with the law and don't think it is the right approach, the fact remains that the bill passed the House and the Senate, was signed into law by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court. Even after all three branches of government acted, there are still ways for those who oppose the law to work within our democracy change it. Shutting down the government and pushing the global economy to the brink of disaster is not one of them.

In their letter, Reps. Scalise, Fleming and Cassidy and their colleagues cite one of James Madison's Federalist Papers to justify their approach. But they forget that our Founding Fathers, who strongly argued divergent positions about what form and shape of government we should take, compromised to give birth to the greatest nation the world has ever known. The Constitution itself is the product of extraordinary political compromise. Democrats, President Obama and I -- along with some Republican Senators -- believe that the path forward is to get to a budget conference now with the House and work out our differences for the good of the country. Senate Democrats have asked to do this 21 times only to be blocked by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and his allies like Louisiana Sen. David Vitter.

While these 80 individuals may not believe this, other members of Louisiana's delegation and more than 250 respected business organizations do, including the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce American Forestry Association, the American Farm Bureau Association, the American Gas Association, the American Insurance Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association. They have warned against a reckless shutdown and stated the importance of paying our bills to prevent another recession. I am proud to stand with them and the people of Louisiana who expect results from a government that is smart, lean and functional.

Absent from the hostage note signed by 80 Tea Party House Members were Rep. Charles Boustany, Rep. Cedric Richmond and former Rep. Rodney Alexander. I applaud them for resisting the heated calls of a few to shut down our government. I hope that they and other members who did not sign that August letter can form a coalition in the House to rebuke the hostage-taking antics of the Tea Party and work with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to extract our nation from this dangerous, unnecessary and completely manufactured crisis.

We have had great debates throughout our history, and there have been winners and losers on both sides, but we always move forward together. That is how a functioning democracy works.

Our government is the most important experiment in self-rule, and the whole world is watching us. Now is not the time to let a small group of extremists cause this noble effort to falter. If we don't stand up for our democracy now, we will dishonor the brave actions of the great patriots who threw the crates of tea overboard that December night in 1773.

Mary Landrieu is the senior U.S. senator for Louisiana.

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