Sensible Americans must hope that John Boehner at some point in the very near future will decide to risk his House speakership, putting the good of the nation ahead of his political ambitions.
The government shutdown has been, at best, a non-winner for the Republican Party, at worst, a blunder that could cost them seats in the upcoming mid-term elections. It was a tactic to derail Obamacare that was destined to fail from the start, thwarted by the Senate’s Democratic majority and President Barack Obama.
Democrats, surprisingly united, have asserted again and again that they will not negotiate with Republicans about performing the essential function of funding government. Nor, say the Democrats, will they be blackmailed into negotiations over raising the federal debt ceiling by Oct. 17 and ensuring that the nation maintains the authority to pay its debts.
Boehner has the ability to end the shutdown now. All he has to do is allow an up-or-down vote in the House on a so-called clean continuing resolution – a temporary funding bill that contains no controversial riders – and a coalition of Democrats and reasonable Republicans would join to pass it.
That, however, would invite the ire of the tea party conservatives who would end up with no concessions from the White House on Obamacare or anything else. For all the pain and inconvenience they engineered – closing down parks and memorials; putting 800,000 federal employees on furlough; closing down federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; halting Head Start programs and payments to help feed poor women and children – they would accomplish nothing.
That could cost Boehner his speakership. But he might have another option, seeking another so-called “grand bargain” that would cut spending on Medicare and Social Security in return for increasing the debt ceiling.
Even that, however, is risky, not only for Boehner but also the nation and, potentially, the global economy. The last time Republicans tried to bargain over raising the debt ceiling, just coming close to the deadline for defaulting on the national debt sent the stock market into a tailspin and rattled international markets.
Some Republicans claim the danger of default has been exaggerated, that the U.S. could continue to pay the interest on its debts even without raising the debt ceiling. But many economists say a default would be a catastrophe like none the world has ever seen, devastating stock markets around the world, increasing the cost of borrowing for billions of people and ruining America’s standing as the most reliable bond-seller in the world.
The point is, why would we take the risk?
At some point, Boehner will have to take a personal risk or allow the nation to go over a cliff. He must allow the House to vote on a measure that funds the government and raises the debt ceiling, even if less than a majority of House Republicans support it.
Obama and the Democrats might decide to help Boehner out with concessions to mollify the tea party contingent. Or maybe not.
But for the good of the nation – perhaps for its economic survival – Congress needs to vote. That’s how things are decided in this country, and a few extremists shouldn’t be permitted to bring the system to a grinding, potentially catastrophic halt.