In yet another last-minute deal to avoid a catastrophic, self-inflicted wound on the United States, congressional lawmakers avoided having the United States default on its debt and re-opened the government late yesterday.
The government would have passed through its debt ceiling on Thursday, likely leading to a global economic collapse, had House Republican leadership not finally relented from its absurd, extremist position to…well, it’s not exactly clear, even 18 days later.
That’s what was so frustrating about the past few weeks. For all the demands Tea Party Republicans have offered in exchange for keeping the government operating and avoiding another recession, from defunding Obamacare to steep spending cuts, they have just about nothing to show for it. Far-right conservatives, most of them elected in 2010 and 2012, have dragged their party to the edge of a cliff and nearly brought down the country with it.
In exchange? Tea partiers got what amounted to just about nothing, besides an extremely minor Obamacare concession that gives the government greater oversight to make sure recipients of certain subsidies in the law are eligible. That’s it.
On one hand, it’s a relief that this manufactured crisis is over (at least until January) and that Republicans were not able to succeed with their hostage-taking strategy. That’s not to say the status quo when it comes to spending and Obamacare is ideal. A look at our budget deficits and the so-called “glitches” plaguing the health care reform law online would prove otherwise.
But when the minority party that was soundly defeated in the 2012 presidential election decides it is perfectly fine to hold ransom the global economy and the livelihoods of millions of people, from college students dependent on federal aid to retirees reliant on Social Security, it was important that President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, not exactly known for having spines, stand their ground. Not doing so would destroy the constitutional foundation of this country.
A minority party, when it controls one or both houses of Congress, should work in good faith with the majority party to earn some policy concessions. That means coming to the table and working out some sort of agreement on a policy issue of concern to its constituents and bargaining with the leaders of the other party. It’s how conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan and liberal Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil, for instance, were able to pass significant pieces of legislation, even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye politically.
Our constitutional democracy is about give and take. It’s about compromise. Even the Constitution itself is a compromise between Founders who wanted a strong federal government and those who favored states’ rights. By attempting to throw the balance of power to the minority party in one house of one branch of government, House Republicans attempted to destroy that norm in the name of some futile ideological battle.
Extortion is no way to govern responsibly. That establishment Republicans have been so weak-willed as to allow its far-right members to negotiate this way is both embarrassing and worrying. It’s why when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says a shutdown is “off the table” come next year, it’s hard to take him seriously. After all, that’s what House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said before this crisis, too.
We hope he stays true to his word. Otherwise, we’ll be teetering on the edge of economic collapse yet again in just a few months.