Eagle editorial: Shutdown looms large

Republicans in Congress are fond of quoting a Democratic senator’s statement that the Affordable Care Act will be a “huge train wreck.” But it is Congress that is about to jump the rails and take the federal government and the economy with it, as the weak president looks on.

Americans are suffering from Capitol Hill showdown fatigue, but this is serious.

The fiscal year will end Monday, setting up the U.S. for its first government shutdown since 1996 if Congress doesn’t act on spending legislation.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Wednesday that the nation will run short of money by Oct. 17 if Congress doesn’t agree to raise the debt ceiling. He also pointed to the 2011 impasse and its resulting S&P downgrade of the U.S. credit rating as what not to do. “If Congress were to repeat that brinksmanship in 2013, it could inflict even greater harm on the economy. And if the government should ultimately become unable to pay all of its bills, the results could be catastrophic,” Lew wrote.

The current farm bill also expires Monday. The traditionally bipartisan process of crafting such legislation is broken, with the two chambers split on how deeply to slash food-stamp funding and the future uncertain for farmers and anti-hunger advocates.

Given the context, it made no sense for the Senate to waste 21 hours this week on a fake filibuster of the ACA by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas – a meaningless exercise assisted by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., unfortunately.

And in the end Wednesday, even Cruz voted to open Senate debate of the House-passed bill that would keep the government operating past Monday while defunding the health care law and crippling its Oct. 1 enrollment launch.

With the Democratic-led Senate and Democratic president sure to oppose linking the two issues, and Republican-led House unlikely to blink, a disruptive shutdown looms large – even though polls indicate that nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose shutting down the government and risking a default over the health care act and 80 percent think threatening a government shutdown during budget debates is no way to negotiate.

In addition, some House Republicans want to tie any increase in the debt ceiling to a number of stalled items on their agenda, such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and regulatory rollbacks as well as an ACA delay.

Worst of all is the answer to the question of who put these variously reckless and clueless people in charge: We did.

The moment demands pragmatic, decisive, foresighted, apolitical leadership. Americans are about to learn whether it now exists in Washington, D.C., only in history books.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman