Rampell: Blame McConnell and Ryan for the shutdown

Jan 23, 2018
  • By Catherine Rampell
  • Washington Post

It was neither the #TrumpShutdown nor the #SchumerShutdown. It wasn’t even the #StephenMillerShutdown.

It was always the #McConnellRyanShutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are responsible for the completely avoidable three-day federal shutdown that ended Monday. They will likewise be responsible for the catastrophe coming in a few weeks if Congress can’t get its act together to raise the debt ceiling.

McConnell and Ryan, after all, not only lead the majority party. They also control the legislative agenda. They determine which bills come up for a vote and when. And they knew far in advance the drop-dead deadlines for keeping the government funded.

They also knew the Democrats’ conditions for cooperating.

But McConnell and Ryan frittered away their precious time and political capital on policy pursuits that were totally irrelevant. Worse than totally irrelevant: actively destructive.

Every year, Congress must pass a budget. This is … not a surprise. Yet for the first half of last year, Republicans chose to spend their time and energy chasing a repeal of Obamacare.

They failed, of course. In the meantime, they also missed their opportunity to pass a budget.

So they passed a stopgap funding measure and promised to deal with a real budget later. Sometime before early December.

Instead of even attempting to pass a budget at that point, Ryan and McConnell pivoted to another unrelated, unpopular and fiscally profligate hobby horse: tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

This time they were successful. But while they futzed around, more time-sensitive crises accumulated.

Some, such as the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico, were natural. Others were man-made: Authorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapsed, leaving 9 million low-income kids in limbo. And with McConnell and Ryan’s blessing, President Donald Trump announced that immigrants brought here illegally as children would be subject to deportation come March, unless Congress acted.

No matter. The only thing McConnell and Ryan felt any urgency to work on was stuff their donors care about. Monday’s represents the fourth stopgap 2018 funding bill, with this one set to expire on Feb. 8. It does, at least, include a six-year reauthorization of CHIP.

Don’t get me wrong. Trump has not exactly been helpful. When he has gotten involved, he’s often struggled to remember what’s existing law, what his own positions are and how the legislative process even works.

McConnell and Ryan have no such excuse. They know Congress’ arcane procedures and obligations and, again, they set the agenda. To date, that agenda has not included a single serious budget deal.

Rather than substantially raising (or, better yet, eliminating) the statutory debt limit, Congress has likewise relied on a series of stopgap measures for paying our creditors over the past year. The Treasury Department has had to resort to “extraordinary” accounting measures to stave off a debt default, which could trigger a worldwide financial crisis.

The latest round of such measures, which began in early December, will likely be exhausted sometime in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, the markets look nervous.

Yet instead of laying the groundwork now to prevent default, McConnell and Ryan engage in hashtag wars. They’re cutting more taxes. Ryan is even fantasizing about slashing entitlements.

#McConnellRyanShutdown is bad enough. Let’s hope #McConnellRyanCrash isn’t next.