Into the second week of the federal government shutdown, the Republican members of Congress behind the move are now threatening to force the nation to default on its debts unless President Obama gives in to their demands.
Obama needs to take that threat seriously, but there is a great national risk in abetting behavior that points a gun at the nation’s finances and, beyond that, there is no time to make any rational, well-considered bargains before the Oct. 17 date at which the country will no longer be able to pay the debts it willingly ran up.
The solution has to be for Obama and both parties of Congress to take a deep breath and acknowledge some facts, which include:
• A default on the debt could send the country into a deeper recession than the one that has restrained the economy for five years. It could create global financial chaos.
• A minority of the Republican Party doesn’t care about that, so fixated are they on the unattainable goal of derailing the Affordable Care Act. They would drive the country off a cliff rather than compromise on just about anything.
• Republicans are taking a beating over the government shutdown and the approaching default – and deservedly so. This is wholly a production of the GOP.
Seventy percent of Americans disapprove of the way Republican lawmakers are dealing with this matter, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. That’s seven points higher than a week ago. What is more, just half of all Republicans approve. In fact, reports are gathering of a party backlash to the irresponsibility and intransigence of tea party Republicans.
Democrats are doing better than Republicans, according to the poll, but they’re not doing well: 61 percent disapprove of their handling of the issue, five points worse than last week.
• The shutdown is not only reckless but potentially fatal for some Americans. An example reported on Tuesday: A Massachusetts man’s last-ditch treatment for cancer has been postponed by the shutdown, because new clinical trials cannot begin until they are registered on a federal website. The site has been forced to stop processing applications.
And why is this man’s life at heightened risk? Because a Republican minority insists that there will be no government unless Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act – something that is not going to happen, even if Republicans hold cancer patients hostage in order to get their way.
The sad part of this is that there is a bargain to be had, at least on funding the government. The country does need to continue working on the deficit, even though it has declined precipitously with increased revenues from last year’s tax increase and an improving economy. Medicare and Social Security need to be reformed so that they are financially strong and able to achieve their important missions. But the time for those negotiations was months ago, not at the last second and with one party holding a gun to the head of the country.
By Tuesday, House Republicans were floating hints that they would raise the debt ceiling and reopen government in return for immediate talks with Obama on ways to reduce deficits and change Obamacare. That’s a far cry from the line in the sand drawn last week.
For the nation’s sake, Obama needs to ensure that House Speaker John Boehner has the wiggle room to escape from this mess of his own making. That wiggle room could be simply acknowledging the obvious: that we do need to talk about the budget, deficits, Social Security and Medicare.
If that allows Boehner to declare victory and reopen the government, at least the immediate crisis is past. The better response, though – for the country, for the Republicans and for the world – is for Boehner to develop some courage and tell the tea party “no.” An open vote would raise the debt limit and, as far as that goes, end the government shutdown, too.
Eventually, responsibility has to play a role in this.