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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Staving off a financial meltdown

It appears the nation has narrowly avoided a default that would have been devastating to the economy.

The Senate reached a last-minute settlement on increasing the debt ceiling, and ending the partial government shutdown, that was to go to the House last night and was expected to pass with mostly Democratic support.

It is a relief the national parks will be reopened, government employees will return to work and that the nation escaped a default that likely would have triggered a financial meltdown.

But the dubious achievement is nothing to celebrate. It is hard to believe the government of the world’s most powerful nation could be so dysfunctional.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but the unbending House Republicans managed to make themselves the villains in this showdown with unrealistic — and frequently changing — demands.

With the Democrats holding the White House and the Senate, it made no sense to demand the defunding of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, the president’s signature law.

This was all political theater.

By indulging the fantasies of its most extreme members, the House GOP actually undermined the worthy effort to reform or eliminate Obamacare.

Were it not for the government shutdown and the default threat, the public’s attention in the last few weeks would have been on the devastating debut of Obamacare health insurance exchanges, whose technical failures surely provide a preview of this government behemoth.

Instead, the nation’s eyes have been on the House’s foot-stomping demands.

The president and the Senate Democrats, of course, are not the good guys here. They offered no reasonable concessions — even refusing to eliminate the Obamacare medical device tax that members of both parties dislike.

But we wouldn’t expect a Republican president and Senate to submit to the demands of a liberal House, and no one should be surprised the Democrats held firm — especially less than a year after an election affirmed their Washington advantage.

So now the GOP is on the defensive, and its chances of winning the elections needed to curtail Obamacare and the deficit may be diminished.

Yet the conservatives who recognized the mathematics and sought compromise were savaged by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and tea party groups.

Cruz, in particular, appeared more interested in puffing up his national profile than actual results.

His self-aggrandizing antics caused influential conservative strategist Grover Norquist to say Cruz should apologize for needlessly dragging Republicans “across broken glass” and hurling “invective and nasty stuff at every single Republican who had a track record longer than Ted Cruz’s of opposing Obamacare and voting against it ...”

There is still a slim possibility something positive will come out of this shameful episode.

Under the agreement, the government would be funded through Jan. 15, and the debt ceiling would be raised until Feb. 7.

But significantly, the plan would call for House and Senate negotiators to reach accord by Dec. 13 on a blueprint for tax and spending policies over the next decade.

One of the chairs of that negotiating committee will be Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the studious chairman of the House Budget Committee, who’s offered workable strategies to curtail entitlement spending and help bring the nation’s crushing $16.7 trillion debt under control.

No doubt, the Democrats will oppose his budget-cutting proposals. But if they refuse to confront the deficit crisis, then they will be the ones who seem intransigent — and unrealistic.

Ryan, unlike the House firebrands, is likely to advance his case vigorously, but with an understanding you can’t always get everything you want and that incremental progress is better than holding your breath until the nation turns blue.

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