Worth repeating, again and again, is that this government shutdown didn’t have to happen. A bipartisan majority exists in the U.S. House for a simple bill that would keep open the operations of the federal government. Speaker John Boehner has not allowed such a measure to reach the House floor. That would require saying “enough!” to the partisan excesses of a minority of his caucus.
A veteran of Capitol Hill, Boehner long has been a conservative with a practical bent, ready to work with interest groups and their lobbyists, alert to the limits of power, prepared to strike deals. Thus, the past few years have been a descent, painful at times, often embarrassing, the Ohioan kowtowing to those who wish to rip up much of what he has learned and understood about how politics works.
The speaker talks about President Obama refusing to negotiate. Remember, this is a resolution to keep the government operating as currently constructed. In that way, the negotiation already has taken place. Democrats have accepted the Republican level of spending, or roughly $300 billion below what Obama proposed, near the amount of the Paul Ryan budget plan. Boehner once described the agreement that spawned the sequester now in effect as getting virtually everything he wanted.
Of late, the speaker and colleagues have been scrambling to find a path out of their corner, even suggesting the need for Democrats and Republicans to sit down to bridge differences. Yet that option has been available for months, House Republicans resisting what they long demanded, “regular order” in crafting a federal budget. Boehner has revived talk of a “grand bargain,” now seemingly more of a pipe dream than ever.
Some House Republicans have grumbled about the disrespect shown to their side. They want something to save face. Yet they have displayed their own lack of respect. The Affordable Care Act is the product of legislative majorities elected by the people. The election of last year focused much on the act, and voters re-elected the president. Now House Republicans, and Senate allies such as Ted Cruz, want to cast all that aside, and practice a brand of extortion.
When will the recklessness stop?
The deadline for raising the debt-ceiling approaches, the risk growing that the country will lurch into an unnecessary and damaging default. The president is right to hold firm, lessons learned from two years ago, when Republicans were invited to try again. This isn’t any way to run Washington, holding the federal government hostage to get what you want. If John Boehner will not say “no,” then others must.