Republican news of the weird

As a kid, I was captivated by newspaper cartoons and columns with titles like “Fun Facts To Know And Tell” and “News of the Weird.”

I’m getting lots of both from the GOP these days.

A few days ago, House Republicans voted unanimously to guarantee full back pay to furloughed federal workers, while refusing to reopen the government. Consider that for a moment: Republicans voted to pay people not to work.

Like the 47 percent plurality of Americans, I certainly support paying federal workers forced to vacate their jobs by the Republican shutdown (38 percent of Americans oppose back pay for these government employees). But of course, I also want the government reopened.

By contrast, House Republicans are insisting that the government remain closed, even preventing a vote on the question, while at the same time insisting that federal employees get paid for not coming to work.

Their rhetoric notwithstanding, paying people not to work is not as weird for the GOP as it might sound.

Witness the current governor of North Dakota.

While collecting $80,000 per year as the state’s lieutenant governor — presumably a salary worthy of full-time effort on the taxpayers’ behalf — Jack Dalrymple also collected $4 million in farm subsidies backed by the GOP, the party that sees those pesky families surviving on food stamps as the real waste in agriculture spending but is anxious to protect payments the rich get often for not farming.

Another fun fact starts from the GOP claim that its current hostage-taking is in the service of a larger goal: postponing the harms of ObamaCare.

Healthcare reform will, of course, save money over the long run and improve the economy. But, just for a moment, let’s just assume the ideologues of the right are correct. The Heritage Foundation, known for its liberal cost estimates in support of conservative causes, suggests that ObamaCare will cost the economy about $70 billion a year.

Six to seven weeks of shutdown down will cost more. Will Republicans promise to end the shutdown when its costs exceed those they estimate will arise from the Affordable Care Act? Or, will they spend more shutting down the government than ObamaCare costs, ostensibly in order to save the cost of Obama-Care?

And then, of course, there is the debt limit. The interest rates governments and people are charged depend in important measure on how likely lenders believe that borrowers are to repay loans and charges, in full, with interest.

If you walked into a bank and started telling loan officers that you may or may not make your payments on time, depending on how much cash you have and whether you can get your whole family to agree, do you think you would pay a higher interest rate? Do you think you would get a loan at all?

Apparently Republicans have adopted that strategy, telling lenders that defaulting might not be so bad. One congressman went so far as to say he believes defaulting would somehow “improve our credit rating.”

We’ve seen this movie before, and it’s expensive. Standard & Poor’s made it crystal clear that loose Republican lips,  members of Congress who were willing even to contemplate default, reduced the U.S.’s credit rating in 2011.

And that downgrade had a cost — almost $20 billion in increased interest payments, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center — because Republicans could not resist debt-limit brinkmanship. Others estimate that actual default would increase interest payments by $150 billion a year, all of which would be added to the deficit by Republicans who say they want to reduce it.

It’s hard to find news weirder than this.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leader of the Senate and the Democratic whip in the House.