Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and others in his party have rightly criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the past for refusing to allow his chamber to vote on House-passed bills. So it’s hard to understand the House’s refusal now to take up the Senate-passed “clean” spending bill and potentially end the weeklong shutdown.
Indeed, Pompeo told The Eagle editorial board on Monday that he’s OK with such a vote, though he predicted it wouldn’t pass. He said that he has never seen the GOP caucus so united around an objective.
So why not have the vote and see if the clean bill passes? And what exactly is the objective of the shutdown?
Anyone who recently heard Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, hold forth on the Senate floor for 21 hours understood the goal to be rolling back “Obamacare,” more properly known as the Affordable Care Act. So it was surprising to hear Pompeo focus not so much on the ACA (which he called a “mess”) or the debt ceiling (which he acknowledged needed to be raised) but long-term entitlement reform.
“Entitlement” means Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, each of which is on an unsustainable demographic path crowded with baby boomers. But “reform” can mean steps such as reducing benefits, cutting health provider reimbursements, means-testing retirees and raising the retirement age – unpopular ideas among Americans including Republicans, especially those of a certain age.
If that is what the House Republicans want, and this is what they view as a historic opportunity to get it, things do not look good for a swift resolution before real damage can be done to the economy.
And forget the incentive of the Oct. 17 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who said Sunday that “on the 17th we run out of our ability to borrow and Congress is playing with fire.”
In fact, Pompeo’s cavalier attitude toward Lew’s warning was unsettling – as if the risk of default weren’t real and the uncertainty on Wall Street and throughout the economy were insignificant.
Pompeo even seemed to downplay the hardship being caused by the shutdown, referring to “short-term challenges from our effort to fix this problem” and calling it “valuable” for people to realize the total scope of the federal government.
“This is the thing I went to go fix,” Pompeo said of federal government spending. He also said: “You can’t sit and stare at these long-term risks forever and do nothing.”
True. There was further truth in Pompeo’s criticism of the Obama administration’s selective approach to the shutdown – especially closing the open-air national memorials – and unwillingness to talk with Republicans. “If you have a president that won’t lead,” Pompeo said, “you end up in bad places.”
But if you have a party that controls only half of Congress yet is willing to shut down the government until it gets its way, you risk staying in a bad place for a long, long time.