On Friday, the financial markets wagered that the adult Republicans in Washington won’t be able to make the kids give up the keys to the car before they crash it.
On almost a strict party-line vote, the U.S. House 230-189 voted to approve a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government open past Sept. 30 but would not provide money to implement the Affordable Care Act. Not so long ago, the markets were betting that such a vote would have been merely symbolic — a way to placate the tea party. Once the ideologues had their turn, however, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., would be back at the wheel.
Instead, Reps. Boehner and Cantor defended the vote and challenged the Senate to pass the bill, even though they know that the Senate won’t pass it and President Barack Obama won’t sign it. Nor should they. The bill locks in the wrong kind of spending and blocks legislation designed to help millions more Americans get health insurance. It exemplifies the worst kind of Washington dysfunction, not that we’ve come to expect anything else.
The real worry is that if the tea party caucus in the House can bully the chamber into a needless and dangerous showdown over a shutdown, they can do the same on raising the debt limit, which the country will hit in mid-October. From the economy’s standpoint, a shutdown would be anything from an annoyance to a minor problem. Default would be anything from a disaster to a catastrophe.
“We had a victory today for the American people, and, frankly, we also had a victory for common sense,” Rep Boehner said after the vote. “Our message to the United States Senate is real simple: The American people don’t want the government shutdown and they don’t want Obamacare.” The speaker may need several glasses of his favorite red wine after tossing off a line like that.
This latest disaster-that-must-be-headed-off moment results from state-by-state gerrymandering that has created many more ideologically safe House districts and a tea party fund-raising network that allows lawmakers to bypass the party apparatus. Rep. Boehner has less ability to discipline rogue members whose blind dislike of President Obama and the health care law blind them to the good of the country.
At previous moments, Vice President Joe Biden could work out deals with his old Senate colleague, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. It happened with the budget deal last December. But Sen. McConnell has a tea party primary challenger who considers compromise the equivalent of treason.
Tea party Republicans say that it’s a matter of principle. The principle they are forgetting is: country over party. The nation doesn’t need this wild ride.
for The Post Editorial Board