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Bass: From Punxsutawney to Sacramento to Washington

Who can forget the movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray as a hapless curmudgeon of a weatherman stuck in small-town Pennsylvania reporting on the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. No matter how hard he tries, Murray finds himself repeating the same day over and over and over again.

Washington, D.C., and Sacramento are a long way from Punxsutawney, but “Groundhog Day” is very much alive and well for me.

As Speaker of the California Assembly, while my state lurched from budget crisis to budget crisis, my colleagues and I negotiated in good faith with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a small band of Republican lawmakers to avoid government shutdowns and budget breakdowns.

We became conversant in the language of hostage negotiations and ransom notes, a mode of speaking familiar to my Democratic president and colleagues sitting opposite the negotiating table with a Republican leadership employing those same tactics to extract unconscionable demands from hardworking American families.

When we were staring into the economic abyss in California, our Republican colleagues spoke of a spending problem in our state but failed to acknowledge the twin culprits, that we were plagued by both a revenue and spending problem.

Talk of constitutional amendments were gimmicks the Republican right used to excite its base, but such stunts were nothing more than ploys without basis in theory or in practice. An economic crisis was being used as cover to gut government programs, not reform them.

California requires a two-thirds vote in our Legislature to raise revenue but a majority vote to cut taxes. The annual budget crisis in my state leads to government paralysis, never more so than during the depths of the Great Recession. This dysfunction need not be expanded to D.C.

Today, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is embracing that worn out gimmick as the House considers the extreme Cut, Cap and Balance Act that breaks our pledge to preserve and protect Medicare, guts Medicaid and slashes education. It further makes vulnerable our children, their grandparents and families.

Somewhere in California today, the hostage takers I negotiated with in Sacramento are cheering on their federal partners from the sidelines.

The sacred cows in Sacramento are the same in Washington for the party of corporate America. Closing tax loopholes that make the rich richer and reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas are untouchable. Phrases like shared sacrifice, the common good and the public interest are unfathomable and unintelligible. Corporate well-being is what matters; the well-being of our working communities, their public schooling and public health are nonfactors.

Democrats in both capital cities have promised to govern, to lead even when the harsh budgetary winds are blowing in our faces, rather than at our backs. Our Republican colleagues embrace a much different approach, preferring us to jump when standing at the edge of a cliff.

We did not allow that to happen in Sacramento, and we won’t allow that to happen here, although the sacrifices will be painful.

California’s exports are known the world over. From our motion picture productions to our world-class wines, from our agricultural output to our high-tech know-how, California is a rich state envied by others.

But Washington can ill afford to import a government of dysfunction perpetrated by a handful of lawmakers willing to jeopardize our social safety net to reward corporate tycoons and protect their tax loopholes.

“Groundhog Day” ends when Bill Murray begins to look outward and help the community that surrounds him, rather than selfishly focus on the world within him. It’s time my Republican colleagues take a similar approach and join Democrats in governing rather than tearing down.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) serves on the Budget Committee and is a former Speaker of the California Assembly.

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