On Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner and other House Republican leaders tried again. They pulled together their own plan for reopening the federal government and raising the country’s debt ceiling. Compared to earlier House demands, or those that triggered this unnecessary, harmful and embarrassing episode, the new proposal appeared almost reasonable.
Yet Boehner and crew soon backed away. They encountered opposition in their caucus. The moment delivered a reminder about why attention had shifted to the Senate, Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, building the framework for a deal. This is how these confrontations have been resolved of late, senators bridging differences, the House eventually falling into line.
The Obama White House and its Democratic allies in Congress rightly have resisted concessions concerning the Affordable Care Act. To do otherwise would mean bowing to extortion, setting an ugly and likely debilitating precedent for doing business in Washington.
The proposal constructed by Reid and McConnell would open the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. A panel of lawmakers would face a December deadline for reaching an agreement on a budget for the longer term. For Democrats, the Jan. 15 date makes possible a deal to ease the second phase of the misguided and damaging sequester. The budget negotiations amount to the needed conference committee.
For Republicans, there are potential sweeteners, a stronger way to test eligibility for subsidies in the health exchanges and postponement of a tax that would generate revenue for some insurers with many high-cost beneficiaries. Neither involves significant change to the Affordable Care Act.
That likely inspired grumbling among House Republicans, many still holding to such proposals as delaying or ending the excise tax on medical devices and equipment, if not the demise of the health-care law altogether. What they still do not fully accept is the debacle of the past two weeks, the House overreaching, holding the federal government hostage to get what it cannot achieve by the usual political means.
The harm extends to the lives needlessly disrupted, including those of veterans and federal workers. On Tuesday, Fitch Ratings put the country’s debt on “negative” watch. The rating agency thinks the debt ceiling will be raised in time. What it finds troubling is the partisan brinkmanship, all but concluding: This isn’t any way to run a country. The sad thing is, even with the Senate deal, another opening for carelessness looms.