Congress can’t agree on the government shutdown, extending the debt ceiling and the Affordable Care Act. And its members certainly can’t agree which movie the latest Capitol Hill fighting best resembles.
Is it “Star Wars”? “Psycho”? “The Hunger Games”? A Fellini film? Or “High Noon”?
Each has been mentioned by congressmen in the past few weeks. Then again, so have “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Groundhog Day.”
The movie comparisons began in late September as the congressional logjam over continued government funding became apparent and have continued since.
On Oct. 5, for example, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), invoked “Catch-22” author Joseph Heller and Fellini while rebuking House attempts to shut down the government, then reopen agencies like the National Institutes of Health to curb negative publicity.
“The Tea Party Republicans came here because they were concerned about the debt,” Cohen said. “Now they’ve shut down their government like an arsonist sets a fire, and they’re coming around, acting like they’re firefighters who are trying to rescue the children who they didn’t realize were in the building and who couldn’t get help from the NIH for their cancer treatments and the veterans they’re going to rescue who couldn’t go to the memorials and the Federal workers who aren’t getting paid.
“It is like a Fellini movie,” he said.
Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, whose suburban Washington district has been heavily affected by the government layoffs, also pointed to the movies in a separate discussion that same day about a proposal to pay federal workers when the shutdown ends.
“I saw the movie ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ If you looked at that movie, it was about catching bin Laden. The woman who did it, Maya, has she been furloughed? Where is Maya? We don’t know where she is. But has she been furloughed? Should she not get paid?” he said.
Senators offered their own comparisons.
“I remember the Bill Murray movie ‘Groundhog Day’ — a wonderful movie, farcical but nowhere near as farcical as the groundhog day we have once again in Congress,” Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy told the Senate on Sept. 24.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) suggested a gangster film.
“We think the Affordable Care Act will help more Americans get affordable health insurance. Republicans don’t agree. So they should campaign on it in the next election. If they can get the votes, elect enough Senators, et cetera, repeal it. But that’s not what they’re doing. They are blackmailing the country,” he said on the House floor on Sept 28.
“It’s like a 1930s gangster film: ‘That’s a nice government you got there. That’s a nice economy you got there. Pity if it should happen to blow up if you don’t pay us off by giving us what we want.'”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio launched a dialogue about the appropriate movie comparison a couple weeks ago.
“It feels like the horror movies where you scream at the screen: ‘Don’t go in that room. Don’t do it.’ But they do it anyway,” he said Sept. 24. “In some ways, everything we are facing with the debt and Obamacare is similar to a horror movie. We know how it ends if we stay on this path. We know what happens in the horror movie if they open the door. The bad guy is on the other side.”
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz jumped on the analogy, invoking the “Psycho” shower scene before before move onto more recent horror villains. “Perhaps one of the great philosophical conundrums with which we must all wrestle is whether Obamacare is more like Jason or Freddy,” he said.
“You can put forth a powerful argument for Jason because Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country and when Jason put on his hockey mask and swung that machete, there was carnage like nothing else. On the other hand, we could make a powerful argument for Freddy, because as James Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters said, Obamacare is a nightmare. It is a nightmare for the men and women of America.
Cruz also name-checked “Star Wars,” concurring with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul that the country needed a rebellion against oppression they argue the Affordable Care Act represents.
“I will confess that it reminded me of a movie series — and that was the ‘Star Wars’ franchise and the discussion of a rebellion against oppression,” he said during his marathon session. He said he thought of “the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire — the Empire being the Washington, DC, establishment. Indeed, immediately upon hearing that phrase, I wondered if at some point we would see a tall gentleman in a mechanical breathing apparatus come forward and say in a deep voice, ‘Mike Lee, I am your father.”’
Democratic senators offered their own movie comparisons.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) warned that the House’s attempt to prioritize Social Security checks and payments to foreign bondholders in the event of a debt default would result in a situation akin to “The Hunger Games.”
“Can you imagine the result? Medicare beneficiaries will be pitted against disabled vets, each fighting the other. Students receiving Pell grants will be up against patients receiving medical care; doctors conducting cancer research would be pitted against agents patrolling our borders,” he said in a Sept. 26 floor speech.
He said the House plan for a debt prioritization “would pit one program against another in a fight for survival” in advance of the movie sequel’s arrival in theaters.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), suggested a more classic movie comparison: “High Noon.”
“The two sides are walking down the street,” he said Sept. 27. “I just hope, like in the movie,’ the good guys win. I hope reason and judiciousness and a sense of responsibility to the people of this country prevails, and not some knee-jerk reaction to what a few people in the House of Representatives want to do to our government.”
Other congressmen suggested that the standoff had cinematic potential.
“The drama that has played out on the floor of the House would make for a great movie,” said Rep. GK Butterfield (D-N.C.). “I must remind my colleagues that we aren’t in Hollywood, and their dangerous and thoughtless actions aren’t without consequences.”
While senators and congressmen point to the movies, neither Republicans or Democrats give any indication they are expecting the words of certain Hollywood movie star, a pig named Porky, to close the fight any time soon.