We have a deal. Rather, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have agreed a deal. It might not be a great deal, but at least it re-opens the US Federal Government (allowing an estimated 700,000 Federal employees to return to work) and prevents America from defaulting on its debt, which in all likelihood would have plunged the global economy back into recession in a calamity that would have made the period after Lehman Brothers collapsed look like a walk in the park.
The agreement, which essentially allows the government to stay open and the debt limit to be raised until early 2014, is a massive defeat for the Republicans. Whatever you may hear, they have gained nothing. In fact, they may have done enough damage to their own party to scupper their hopes of retaining their slim majority in the House of Representatives in the midterms next year.
The fact that this is only a short term Band-Aid is disappointing, but unsurprising. Since the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms, installing Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker, Congress has found itself utterly unable to govern in any meaningful manner. They have been unable and unwilling to solve any number of big problems facing the country. From background checks on gun purchases to immigration reform – both of which had bipartisan support in the Senate and widespread support amongst the American public – opportunity to make significant progress on issue after issue has come and gone. And as we breathe a sigh of relief that catastrophe has been averted, let’s not forget we have been here before. In August 2011 Standards and Poor’s downgraded the US’s AAA credit rating, not based on the state of the economy but on the political intransigence that was plaguing Congress.
This time around, the fracas began with Republicans demanding an insane repeal of Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act to give the law its correct name) and tying this demand initially to the funding of the Government. When that didn’t work, they attached their demands to the raising of the debt limit. The idea that President Obama would repeal a law which makes up a sizeable chunk of his domestic policy legacy, and constitutes the biggest social reform programme in 40 years, is asinine.
A small number of Republicans in Congress, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah have been leading this push. The Tea Partiers have been promised again and again that the law could be repealed – with Congressional leaders knowing full well this was a fallacy. Divisions within the GOP have been glaring, and there has been real displeasure with the behaviour of Cruz and his influence over members of the House.
The irony of all this is that the rollout of a key part of Obamacare, the health exchanges where individuals can go online and shop for insurance, has been disastrous. But instead of the media focus being on this, all anyone’s been reading about is the threat of default. Instead of the administration being forced to answer serious questions about its flagship policy, they have been let off the hook while scolding congressional Republicans for their irresponsibility. Polls have shown that public approval of Obamacare has actually gone up during the recent fight.
President Obama said from the start of this that Congress should not get something extra for simply doing its job. Its job in this instance was to raise the debt limit. Over the past couple of weeks, various journalists and pundits have argued that he has to give the Republicans something in return for a return to business as usual, that compromise is the only way to resolve this. Yet he has ended up giving nothing. And the dangerous precedent that could have been set- allowing Congress to use the threat of default to enact political concessions- has been thoroughly squashed.
I am an ardent follower of US politics, and I have seen the Republicans say and do some questionable things in recent years, but I was genuinely surprised that we came as close as we did to default.
Republican leaders in Congress have a big problem on their hands. They have mollycoddled their own right wing for too long, promising them things they knew full well they couldn’t deliver. If they want to have any hope of actually governing, they have to make a decision. Either continue on the current course, with further disastrous consequences for their party and the country, or once and for all face up to the fact that their party will not be united on the major issues, and the only way for them to solve problems is to work with Democrats.
To paraphrase the President, they just need to do their jobs.
Gavin Patel is a Young Fabians Member