On Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) was asked by a reporter a Harrisburg's CBS affiliate to clear the air about his views on same-sex marriage, after a legal brief filed on behalf of his administration compared same-sex marriage to letting 12-year-olds get married. But Corbett, who had previously called the comparison "inappropriate," wasn't in an apologetic mood. Instead, he offered up a comparison of his own. "It was an inappropriate analogy—I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?" Commence awkward silence.
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill can agree on at least one thing: Members of Congress shouldn't be paid during the shutdown. "If Congress can't do its job and put the American people first, then they certainly shouldn't get paid during a crisis that they are causing," said Rep. Ami Berra (D-Calif.), explaining his decision to donate his check to charity. "Why should Senators or House members be paid for failing to fulfill one of their most basic responsibilities?," asked Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), while announcing he would give up his own salary for the duration of the impasse.
The answer to Buchanan's question isn't as obvious as it might sound. For one thing, taking away paychecks from members of Congress wouldn't save anyone any money. Unlike the 800,000 government workers currently on furlough, congressmen are prohibited by the 27th Amendment from raising or lowering their own pay until after a congressional election; any action they take now wouldn't go into effect until 2015, by which time the shutdown will, presumably, be over. To get around that, senators and representatives choosing to forfeit their paychecks have simply donated them to charity. But that leads to another problem with the pay cut demand: Those members of Congress who do give up their pay are doing so because it's a stunt they can afford. As the National Journal's Matt Berman notes, the median member of Congress' net worth of $966,001 is about 12 times higher than the median American family.
But logistics aside, the idea that congressmen should work without pay is based on a faulty, if widely held premise—that congressmen aren't doing their jobs. It's certainly true that Congress as a body isn't functioning properly, but on a district-by-district level, residents are getting what they voted for. People who elected mainstream Democratic senators didn't send them to Washington to defund the Affordable Care Act; people who stocked the House with arch-conservative Republicans in 2010 and 2012 didn't send their representatives to Washington to keep the Affordable Care Act intact. Why should a powerless House Democrat have to rearrange his finances because of John Boehner's intransigence?
If people really disagree with what their congressmen have done, of course, they have the same option a private employer would: Fire them. In 2011, House Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government and risk a default. In 2012, their constituents sent them back to try it again. Right now, they're getting what they paid for.
Step aside, WWII vets; House Republicans have found their newest government shutdown prop: children with cancer. On Wednesday, having caught wind of the news that about 200 patients—including 30 children—would not be admitted for clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health, the House quickly passed a bill to fund the NIH. (It passed similar resolutions for the National Park Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the District of Columbia.) On Twitter, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) synthesized the new conservative talking points as only he could: "President Stompy Feet now says he'll kill funding for children's cancer treatment. Will the media still cover for him?" On Thursday morning, House Republicans who worked previously as doctors and nurses held a press conference on Capitol Hill to call once more for full funding of the NIH.
But missing from all of this is any explanation of what the Republicans' continuing resolution would actually do: Enshrine the severe cuts imposed on the institute by sequestration. NIH lost 5 percent of its budget—or $1.7 billion—when the cuts included in the Budget Control Act went into effect last spring. It has adjusted by eliminating at least 700 research grants, and slowed down priorities such as developing a universal flu vaccine. As NIH director Dr. Francis Collins told the Huffington Post in August, "God help us if we get a worldwide pandemic." (Making a bad situation worse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it will be unable to effectively monitor flu vaccination programs and virus outbreaks during the shutdown.) In September, Collins suggested that the cuts to research could put "the next cure for cancer" on ice.
On Wednesday, the Family Research Council announced a new group of speakers for the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington DC, one of the nation's leading conferences for social conservative activists. Among the featured guests: Failed Texas senate candidate and recently-canned college football analyst Craig James, who sued Fox Sports for wrongful termination last month, arguing that his firing over anti-gay comments constituted religious discrimination.
James, a former NFL running back and victim of a world-historical Google bomb—in which pranksters game a target's Google search results to associate them with something unflattering—fell flat in his long-shot bid to win the Texas Republican senate nomination in 2012, but not before distinguishing himself as a fierce opponent of gay rights. "I think right now in this country, our moral fiber is sliding down a slope that is going to be hard to stop if we don't stand up with leaders who don't go ride in gay parades," he warned at a GOP primary debate. "I can assure you I will never ride in a gay parade." He went on to suggest that gay people will be judge (The man who won that primary election, now-Sen. Ted Cruz, also announced his opposition to gay pride parades.)
Those views didn't do much for James' candidacy (he took just 4 percent of the vote) and they ultimately cost him at least one job. ESPN never specified its reasons for letting James go, but used James' anti-gay debate comments as an excuse to announce that it would not be retaining him after his election was over. His subsequent employers at Fox Sports were more candid, telling the Dallas Morning News, "We just asked ourselves how Craig's statements would play in our human resources department."
Still, James makes for an unlikely martyr for conservatives, if only because he was an enormously unpopular broadcaster to begin with—the kind of on-air personality that would compel college football fans to make his name synonymous with quintuple homicide. In 2011, Sports Illustrated's college football writers unanimously selected him as their least-favorite analyst on television.
The shutdown has been bad news for babies in Arkansas.
The federal government entered shutdown mode at midnight on Monday, after Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution that would keep departments and agencies up and running. Though some Republicans have dismissed the immediate impact of the shutdown, quite a lot of people have already been affected.
Here's a quick guide:
Kids with cancer: 30 children who were supposed to be admitted for cancer treatment at the National Institute of Health's clinical center were put on hold, along with 170 adults.
Head Start kids: When a new grant didn't come in, Bridgeport, Connecticut, closed 13 Head Start facilities serving 1,000 kids. Calhoun County, Alabama, shut down its Head Start program, which serves 800 kids. Some were relocated to a local church.
Pregnant women: Several states had promised to pick up the tab if the US Department of Agriculture stopped funding the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)—but not Arkansas, where 85,000 meals will no longer be provided to low income women and their children.
Babies: 2,000 newborn babies won't receive baby formula in Arkansas, due to those WIC cuts.
Whales: The Marine Mammal Commission, which monitors whale populations, is on hiatus.
63-year-old Jo Elliott-Blakeslee: The shutdown of Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho has complicated the search for a woman who went missing in the park.
Military suicide prevention: Palm Beach, Florida, television station WPTV profiled Rosemarie Spencer, a contractor with the US Army Suicide Prevention Program who was furloughed on Tuesday.
Virginia: 2,000 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were sent home on Tuesday, and commissaries in northeast and southeast Virginia, which provide inexpensive groceries to members of the military, closed on Wednesday.
Firefighters: The Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office in Colorado says its ability to respond to a fire is "severely limited."
Firefighter widows: Heidi Adams, whose husband, Token, was killed investigating a fire in New Mexico last month, won't receive survivor benefits because there's no one at the National Forest Service to finalize the paperwork.
Fishermen: National Park Service blocked all access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.
People who eat food: Eight thousand employees at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention were furloughed, including those tasked with monitoring the outbreak of foodborne illnesses.
People who cook food: The USDA's food safety hotline has stopped fielding calls from people with questions about food storage and safe preparation.
Animal-semen exporters: The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, "No one in Louisiana will be able export livestock, embryos, fertilized animal eggs or animal semen." Animal semen? Yup, the USDA monitors that too.
College students: Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and federal work study programs are officially on ice, as of Tuesday.
Bookworms: Arizona's Marine Corps Air Station Yuma closed on-base facilities including a library, day care center, youth activity center, and pool.
Park rangers: 686 of Alaska's 750 National Park Service employees are staying home.
First responders: The Department of Homeland Security's Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, which trains first responders for states and municipalities, is closed.
Golfers: The Moffet Field Golf Course near Mountain View, California, is closed due to furloughs at the NASA facility where the 18-hole course is located.
Poor Louisianans: The state Commodities Supplemental Food Program, which serves 64,000 people each month, doesn't have the funds to operate.
People with mysterious illnesses: The Undiagnosed Diseases Program at the National Institutes of Health has stopped accepting new patients, with the exception of children with life-threatening illnesses.