Americans already know how the latest government shutdown will end. Too bad we can’t skip the part where furloughed federal workers must worry about providing for their families and veterans in wheelchairs must move barricades to visit their National World War II Memorial.
Sooner or later, finger-pointing will give way to compromise, with the Democratic president weakened but still the winner, his health reform still the law and the Republicans in Congress having gained little but credibility as provocateurs.
True, Americans are deeply divided on the subject of the Affordable Care Act, which rolled out its online insurance marketplaces Tuesday with predictable difficulty.
But a large majority (72 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday) oppose shutting down the government to block the law’s implementation, and even more (74 percent) disapprove of the job Republicans are doing in Congress. (Only 27 percent of Americans want to see a defunding of the ACA tied to raising the debt limit – likely to be some Republicans’ next losing gambit.)
So if “no one wants a government shutdown,” as Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and most other players in the latest debacle claim, none should be necessary.
Roberts and others blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for failing to take seriously the House-passed short-term spending bills, which all came with provisions aimed at delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act.
But the obstacle isn’t Reid, who knows the president would veto any legislation undermining his signature legislative achievement, but rather House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. All Boehner needs to do to end this impasse is to let the House vote on a stand-alone bill authorizing funding for the fiscal year that began Tuesday.
As Boehner considers his dwindling options, he should heed the advice of the Kansan largely credited with engineering the end of the last government shutdown, in 1995-96. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who called the latest standoff “mind-boggling,” recently told the Washington Post that he regretted not having acted sooner to say “enough is enough” to the shutdown and, it goes without saying, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and his House rebels.
President Obama’s approval ratings are taking a well-deserved hit from this debacle, too. It was troubling to learn, for example, that his 10-minute call to Boehner Monday night was the first time they’d spoken in 10 days. A president should be more engaged than that in staving off a shutdown, especially given the risk that $1 billion a week in lost federal wages poses to the fragile economic recovery.
But the Republicans are sure to sustain most of the political damage, just as they did in the last shutdown. Boehner should hurry up and get this over with, so Congress and the president can get back to governing.