Forcing a government shutdown is never a good idea, but forcing one in the midst of a pandemic is patently absurd.
Yet Congress is playing another round of last-minute political chicken that could do just that this Thursday at midnight when the current fiscal year ends.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate are blocking efforts to raise the debt ceiling, risking a potential economic crisis, while Democrats are threatening one another with mutually assured destruction over infrastructure and social spending bills.
This is what passes as governing in Washington, D.C. The U.S. government is teetering on the edge of another fiscal cliff, but members of Congress view it as just another political opportunity. Once a routine matter, raising the debt ceiling has become a political weapon of choice for members of both parties for years.
By now the American public is used to it, but it does strike us as even more reckless now during a public health crisis.
Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats on Monday evening to begin debate on a broad bill that would avert multiple looming fiscal crises for the federal government, according to Laura Olson of the Missouri Independent.
The measure to briefly keep the government operating past the end of the fiscal year on Thursday, as well as to increase the borrowing limit and approve billions in aid for regions struck by extreme weather, failed on a vote of 48-50.
All Democrats supported the measure, and all Republicans opposed it, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., switching his vote to “no” so the measure could be brought up later for another vote, Olson reported.
The failed vote was expected, according to Olson, after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said for weeks that GOP senators would oppose raising the debt limit at a time when Democrats also are seeking to push through a massive $3.5 trillion social spending plan with no Republican support.
Congress still has time to avert this dangerous scenario; rationale heads could prevail. Perhaps they will. But how many times do we have to play this game with the nation’s full faith and credit before someone miscalculates?
A miscalculation at this time could inflict real damage to our nation’s economy. The most recent government shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Why risk this again as the nation struggles to find its footing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Washington Post said it best: It’s hard to see how anyone professing patriotism could willfully risk inflicting this kind of harm on the nation.
We appreciate Republicans’ unwillingness to support President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending bill that is a central part of President Biden’s policy agenda. But their unwillingness to work out a compromise on areas where there is agreement — like raising the debt ceiling to keep the government running — is dangerous and unnecessary. Democrats aren’t blameless in this mess. Far from it. They need to spend less time pointing fingers and more time working on more realistic spending initiatives.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana called the current stalemate “moronic.”
“It is moronic for us to be having this fight when it can be so easily solved,” Kennedy said, calling for the debt ceiling increase to be added to a budget resolution before Thursday. “Nature abhors a moron.”
So does the American public.