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Editorial: Speaker John Boehner is placing the economy at risk with recklessness

After strongly hinting last week that he would not let the U.S. government default on its debts, House Speaker John Boehner reversed course over the weekend, to the detriment of his already weak standing and, more importantly, to the economy.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulous,” Boehner was as emphatic as he was reckless. “We are not going to pass a clean debt limit,” he insisted. “The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit.”

With that irresponsible threat, the speaker sent jitters across the world’s financial markets, diminished the full faith and credit of the federal government and set in motion the potential for another economic collapse.

While most Americans have not suffered direct harm from the weeklong federal government shutdown, a default on the nation’s debt would reverberate quickly.

A U.S. Treasury report issued last week warned of more pain to come: “Political brinksmanship that engenders even the prospect of a default can be disruptive to financial markets and American businesses and families.”

The treasury report noted that many private-sector analysts believe a default “would lead to events of the magnitude of late 2008 or worse, and the result then was a recession more severe than any seen since the Great Depression.”

With memories of the Great Recession still fresh for most of us, does Congress truly want to risk another plunge? The stock market showed signs of stress Monday, with the Dow closing down.

The country will run out of borrowing authority on Oct. 17 and be left without sufficient cash to pay its bills. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warns a U.S. default could freeze credit markets, weaken the dollar, push up interest rates and cause a crisis similar to the one that triggered the worldwide recession in 2008.

Boehner blames President Barack Obama for refusing to sit down and negotiate. But Republicans don’t want a negotiation. They want capitulation.

They want the president and the Senate to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, which they have rightly refused to do. It is the law of the land. Congress approved it. The president signed it, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it constitutional, and Americans re-elected Obama over a challenger who promised to unravel Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

To set it aside, Republicans must repeal it, something they repeatedly have failed to do. Unwilling to accept defeat, they have shut down the federal government and are now prepared to default on the nation’s debt to get their way. The nation can’t afford to give in to such bullying.

To do so would put any law duly passed by Congress and signed by the president at risk. It would diminish the presidency, weaken our democracy and invite more irresponsible brinksmanship.

Boehner, the hapless speaker, sits in the middle of the chaos he has created. He could end it today by sending clean bills to the House floor to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. He claims the votes aren’t there.

Why not put it to a vote, Mr. Speaker, and see whether they are?