If anything was more confounding than the damaging 16-day government shutdown, it was why anyone in Washington, D.C., was smiling when it was over late last week.
The loss of government services alone cost the nation an estimated $3.1 billion. Standard & Poor’s economists think the full tab, including nongovernment business losses, could be as much as $24 billion.
The world was watching and worrying. “Politics are now the main drag for growth in the U.S,” concluded Philip Marey, a strategist for Dutch lender Rabobank.
And the rescue was only temporary. The peril will return in January and February, unless those in power have learned from the fiasco and can meet the goal of hammering out a long-term budget plan by mid-December.
President Obama and leaders in both parties and chambers of Congress now must rethink the harmful cuts in discretionary spending mandated in the 2011 Budget Control Act, also known as sequestration, while getting serious about tax reform and the changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security necessary to sustain those programs and shrink the nation’s budget deficits.
And though Republicans can take credit for having brought excessive federal spending and debt to the forefront of national debate in the past few years, they now should know better than to kidnap and hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States.
In doing so this time, they couldn’t even keep their ransom demands straight. What started as a showdown over the Affordable Care Act was, by the second week, about “substantial entitlement reform,” as Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, put it in an Oct. 7 meeting at The Eagle.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, kicked off the shutdown’s third week by saying on “Face the Nation” that Obamacare is “clearly unworkable and remains unfair” but that “at the end of the day, we’ve got a spending problem.”
And by the end of the last day of the shutdown – with Pompeo and Huelskamp joining Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, among the GOP holdouts voting “no” – it was hard to see that the Republican rebellion had achieved anything save a redundant provision to verify income levels for ACA enrollees.
“This deal fails on spending. This deal fails on Obamacare. Future negotiations based on this deal will likely fail as well,” Roberts said after it was over.
But failure to reach a deal was not an option, just as a shutdown should not have been.
“Looking forward, it will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner,” said Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
She could say that again – and she may have to, if congressional leaders and the president don’t act in a swift, decisive and bipartisan manner to stop this pointless and dangerous cycle of fiscal crises.