For the two weeks of the federal government shutdown, Democrats in Washington have been united behind a principle that political parties shouldnt be allowed to govern by extortion. Thats what Republicans in the U.S. House did when they shut down the government in a quixotic attempt to defund Obamacare. Its what they did again by threatening a default on U.S. debt unless new demands on federal spending were met.
Americans, in poll after poll, have rejected that approach to governing. So have moderate Republicans, whove criticized their far-right colleagues for the damage theyve inflicted on the country (and their party).
So now, with the default approaching and House Republicans finally bowing to good sense and public opinion, what did Democrats decide to do? Demand a ransom of their own.
On Saturday, Senate Democrats killed a promising proposal by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that would have both funded the government for six months and raised the debt ceiling. The price was tiny a delay for two years of a medical device tax that helps pay for the Affordable Care Act, plus some other small items.
Although Democrats had previously vowed not to accept any changes to Obamacare in exchange for reopening the government, the medical device tax was unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans. It reportedly was not what stood in the way of a deal this weekend.
What did? The sequester. Collins bill proposed funding the government for six months at current spending levels which means triggering automatic broad sequester cuts for 2014. Instead, Democrats pushed to undo some of those cuts, according to several reports.
Democrats loathe the sequester, and they have a point. The cuts are blunt and mindless, and deficit reduction should be done precisely and smartly. But Democrats and Republicans agreed to the sequester as part of deficit negotiations back in 2011, and President Obama signed off on the cuts. Like it or not, theyre the current law of the land.
Sounds familiar, no? Republicans abhor Obamacare also the law of the land so much that they were willing to shutter the government over it. It was wrong to link Obamacare and the shutdown, and its wrong now to insert the sequester into the debt default drama.
There are differences, of course. Democrats arent likely to go over the cliff with the default, as House Republicans did with the shutdown. But in the Republicans desperation for a deal, Democrats apparently saw something to gain.
In doing so, however, Democrats have ceded some of their high ground. They, along with the president, were right when they declared that the basic funding of government and payment of debt shouldnt be subject to ransom. They should have held to that principle, so that were not governing by extortion all over again soon.
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