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Editorial: End the hostage-taking

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The House and Senate adjourned Tuesday evening without reaching an agreement to fund and reopen the federal government. The Republican-controlled House refused to pass a budget resolution unless it delays the implementation of Obamacare, and the Senate Democrats refused to gut the president’s signature achievement in exchange for six weeks of government funding.

As a result, the government shutdown continues, increasing the likelihood that thousands of government employees will be furloughed, and the economy will be harmed by an extended closure.

As we wrote on Monday, this shutdown — the first since the Gingrich Congress of the mid-1990s — is an embarrassing display of legislative gridlock unmatched in the world’s developed countries. Only in the United States could a minority party attempt to block duly passed legislation by holding the country’s economy ransom.

But let’s not forget why we’re in this mess in the first place. Many of the media accounts on this issue have been filled with false equivalence, headlines that portray the conflict in Congress as a battle between the parties as if they are equally to blame for the nation’s current predicament. Make no mistake; the government shutdown is the fault of the House GOP’s scorched-earth political strategy.

This shutdown ultimately came about because there is no federal budget on the books. Earlier this year, the House and Senate both passed budgets, but Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, didn’t convene any bicameral negotiations to actually attempt to pass a budget.

Instead, Ryan and the House Republicans planned to use the threat of a government shutdown and, later, the debt ceiling in order to extract concessions in the budget fight.

In other words, the Republicans have been waiting for these twin crises to leverage an agenda — defunding Obamacare and cutting government spending chief among their goals — that would otherwise have no hope of passing.

The House Republicans’ tactics have cost them already in terms of public esteem. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday, only 26 percent of Americans approve of the way the House GOP has handled the negotiations over the federal budget and shutdown, and 63 percent disapprove.

If the Republicans hope to save face politically, and if the country is to return to a relative legislative health, they must give up on their blackmail tactics, agree to reopen the government, and raise the debt ceiling.

If they refuse to release their economic hostages and this fight spills over to the coming debt-ceiling debate, the GOP could really trash the economy. In mid-October, Congress will have to raise the country’s borrowing limit so the government can pay its bills. If that doesn’t happen, the country could default on its debts, which would cause a chain reaction of economic doom.

Unfortunately, early indications are that the House Republicans plan to tie any proposal to raise the debt ceiling to a delay of Obamacare, a plan that must done away with.

In 2011, President Obama and the congressional Democrats made the mistake of negotiating with the Republicans on the debt ceiling and validating their hostage-taking tactics. Today, the Democrats need to stick to their guns and refuse to bend to the will of the House Republicans, lest their tactics be validated again.


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