The shutdown of the federal government that began early Tuesday morning represents a massive failure on all sides of the debate in Washington.
The failure does not begin simply with the inability to pass what is called a continuing resolution (a temporary spending bill meant to keep the office lights on), although that failure is the proximate cause of the current mess. The continuing resolution is merely a stopgap measure, and would not be necessary if Congress and the White House could pass a real budget. Which they can’t.
The continuing resolution would have passed, though, if House Speaker John Boehner had been able to convince conservative upstarts to accept the proposal put forward by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia’s 7 th District. That would have pressed the Senate on Obamacare without forcing a shutdown. They refused.
Boehner also could have avoided a shutdown by working with Democrats, thereby freezing out the tea party caucus and teaching its young upstarts to remember their place. Indeed, a speaker of greater stature — Sam Rayburn, for instance — would have delivered just such a lesson in a manner those on the receiving end would not soon have forgotten.
The tea party caucus also has failed — and its failure was ordained from the start. The Democrat-controlled Senate never was going to pass, and the president never was going to sign, a bill to repeal President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. Even the filibustering Ted Cruz has admitted as much, despite lobbying House conservatives to follow him, like so many Gadarene swine, over the political cliff.
Democrats do not escape blame for the current mess, either. They remain just as intransigent as Republicans — and their intransigence is made all the more egregious because they largely won the last game of chicken, extracting hundreds of billions worth of tax hikes from Boehner in a last-minute deal.
Democrats look even sillier when they refuse to consider changes to Obamacare while the White House continues to roll out unilateral changes to the law. Those include delaying the employer mandate, waiving proof of individual eligibility for exchange subsidies and extending the deadline for small-business exchange applications. Business Insider notes the administration announced that last change “right in the middle of Obama’s fiery speech” insisting he would not change the law one iota.
The GOP has abandoned its demand for repeal of Obamacare, and its demand for the defunding of the law, falling back to a request for (1) a delay in the individual insurance mandate and (2) repeal of the medical-devices tax. The former does not seem unreasonable given the delay of the business insurance mandate. The latter has considerable support among Democrats. Yet Democrats flatly refuse to discuss either one.
The upshot is that the federal government has run out of money. Critical services can limp along for a few more days, but the public will not abide an extended stalemate — nor should it.