Though Congress averts default, dangerous precedent set
October 17, 2013
On Oct. 16, Congress passed a plan that would end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. After almost three weeks of unproductive attempts to get President Barack Obama to compromise key aspects of the healthcare law, House majority speaker John Boehner backed away from his party’s obstinate demands and ultimatums that had held progress hostage. Although both chambers of Congress finally reached a deal and averted a global economic catastrophe, a dangerous precedent has been set on our government’s decision-making process.
It is important to note that the bill is not indicative of comprehensive reform. The compromise simply reflects a stopgap that does not institute any systematic change, but only postpones the crisis to a later date. The government will only be funded at sequester levels until Jan. 15, and the debt ceiling will need to be raised again by Feb. 7. The bill calls for a conference committee to be created to resolve the deadlock and form a longer term budget. But, as history has demonstrated, such as the failed 2011 Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, committees rarely resolve entrenched partisan standoffs.
Although Boehner received a standing ovation at Wednesday’s GOP meeting, his late attempt at a sensible compromise is hardly praiseworthy. Under his feeble leadership, Senator Ted Cruz and Tea Party Republicans held the government hostage in pursuit of an impossible ransom — defunding Obamacare. For three weeks, Boehner forfeited his speakership to the junior senator’s ill-conceived and extremist mandate, which not only lacked the necessary votes for execution, but risked a global economic collapse. Several Republican legislators, such as deeply conservative Congressman Peter King and Tea Partier Senator Kelly Ayotte rebuked Cruz before Boehner called for a reality check. Boehner’s tactics were comically ineffective, demonstrating a disturbing inability to control Republican insanity. The Republican brand has clearly been tarnished.
The GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate in the wake of this latest fiscal impasse have all but been demolished. Republican candidates in several districts from Montana to Kentucky are likely to face a tough assessment from voters who blame their Tea Party colleagues in the House for this latest crisis. As demonstrated by a new Pew Research Center poll, 49 percent of eligible voters favored a Democratic candidate in the forthcoming elections.
Despite Obama’s statement last night that “There’s no reason why we can’t focus on issues at hand,” present circumstances negate his optimism. The shutdown threat by Republicans on the far right set a new milestone on the party’s restless campaign to block Obama’s agenda, a campaign which had already reached an unprecedented mark. Since 2007, Democrats had to end Republican filibusters over 360 times — a record. As evidenced by the government shutdown, such partisan war is undoubtedly harmful to the country. It seems our political system has become indefinitely fragmented, and any hope for substantive change rests on the American people’s courageous activism and intervention at the polls.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 17 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]