It’s still early in this “let’s shut down the federal government” craziness, but at this point, it’s difficult to see what option President Obama has except to refuse to negotiate with a relatively small band of hard-liners who are acting increasingly like hostage-takers rather than members of Congress. Their approach seems to be, “Give us what we demand or we’ll crash this plane into the mountain.”

These are politicians who act like they do not believe in democracy. Regardless of how the people voted in the last election, they insist their approach is the one we all should follow.

Now, in the wake of the shutdown, congressional Republicans have been trying to fund a handful of what they consider to be “popular” programs, such as national parks and cancer research. First they allow the whole thing to shut down, and then they want to come back and tell us what they will support and what they won’t? How is that fair? What about those whose lives are severely impacted by programs that might not be widely popular? Too bad for them?

We should not have to pay political ransom to get Congress to do what it is supposed to do — pay the nation’s bills; keep the lights on; serve the American people.

Over several decades of voting, I have cast ballots for a number of wise and responsible Republican candidates — in county races, legislative races, even statewide races. Yet in recent years, something has drastically changed within the party. On the national level, there simply are no moderate Republican leaders remaining, and the diminishing number of rank-and-file moderates in office are no longer listened to. On the contrary — they are being savaged (and defeated) in primary elections for not being hard-line enough.

We are very fortunate that the situation is not so stark in Washington County as it seems to be in Washington, D.C. The Hillsboro area is represented in the Oregon Senate by Republican Bruce Starr, who has been a voice of moderation and common sense, and his priorities appear to be in the right place, given his efforts to boost funding for education, for example. A candidate like Starr is something the entire country needs a lot more of in these times of deep division.

I’ve been impressed with the way Starr works closely and on a friendly basis with the area’s two Democratic state representatives, Ben Unger and Joe Gallegos. The three often agree on policy issues and clearly have respect for each other. Just think how much better our Congress would be if politicians like these three were leading the way in Washington, D.C.

Instead, the federal government has been brought to a standstill, and in another week or less Congress may stand by and let the country go into default as well. That would be an economic calamity for all of us.

People here are feeling a lot of pain already. Earlier this week, I talked with citizens at random around Hillsboro and Forest Grove, and I found citizens directly suffering — people who had been furloughed because of the shutdown. People on disability who fear the checks they rely on will soon no longer arrive. It’s sad and it’s unnecessary.

As an American who cares more about the health and welfare of the nation than about partisanship, I worry about the nation’s future when there are those in Congress who seem willing to sacrifice all of us to make political points.

Doug Burkhardt is associate editor of the Hillsboro Tribune.

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