If Congress manages to approve a deal to avoid default and reopen the government – and as we write this Thursday evening, such an outcome wasn’t certain – we should all breathe a sigh of relief.
But it should not be a deep or satisfying sigh. All the proposed deal would do is delay the battle to another day, meaning that the same tea party forces who manufactured this crisis will get another opportunity to bring the world economy to its knees early next year.
House Speaker John Boehner was conceding defeat Wednesday, aware that Republicans would fail in their attempts to extort a delay or end to Obamacare. The Senate voted 81-18 to end the fiscal impasse, agreeing to fund the government through Jan. 15, raise the debt limit through Feb. 7 and give back pay to furloughed federal workers.
If the House also approves it, supporters of making America healthier by extending medical insurance to the uninsured can celebrate, but just a little.
All of us who support health reform have to wonder when such a large number of elected representatives – backed by a shrill minority – think it is better to shut down the government and bring the country to the brink of default than to extend health insurance to millions more Americans.
All of us who support democracy should be concerned when so many of our representatives and fellow citizens actively support holding budget bills hostage to extract a policy change that couldn’t be achieved through majority votes in the House and Senate.
In recent weeks, this editorial page has argued that the tactics used by the House GOP in this fight were a horrible precedent, one that could end up strangling future budget decisions, no matter who is in power. If Republicans retake the White House and hold one chamber in Congress in the future, do they really want Democrats bringing the nation to the edge of default to extract a policy change they couldn’t achieve though majority votes?
To date, not a single supporter of the House GOP’s tactics has been able to argue this is a healthy precedent. Why? Because they can’t make that argument. They just have become so wedded to their hatred of Obamacare (and President Barack Obama himself) that they have become accomplices to tactics they would never tolerate if their party occupied the White House and one branch of Congress.
There has been real harm from this shutdown and brinksmanship. U.S. standing in the world has suffered. Investors pulled billions of dollars out of mutual funds. The Economic Confidence Index, published regularly by Gallup, fell 12 points in less than a week. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees were furloughed. Parks were closed. Services were disrupted. The economic recovery has slowed, and will likely stay that way until Congress reaches some kind of resolution on the budget and the federal debt.
Has it been worth it? Clearly not. As Obama said Wednesday, “We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis.”
Voters should remember who manufactured this crisis when they go to the polls in 2014.