By WSJ, Editorial Board
The Beltway budget melodrama rolls on to its predictable and dreary end, with both sides now split over increasingly small differences. None of this is worth a partial government shutdown, much less the risk of a debt default, and both sides are looking like losers. Let’s get it over with.
As we went to press Tuesday night, Republican leaders in the House had abandoned a plan to pass a debt-increase bill that was nearly identical to the one that Senate leaders agreed to on Monday. The main differences were funding the government only through December 15, rather than January 15 in the Senate bill, and a provision to require Members of Congress and their staff to live by ObamaCare’s subsidies.
None of that was enough to please the small band of 20 or so House conservatives who have been all but running the House since this fiasco began. They refused to support House Speaker John Boehner and even Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. Another 30 or so Members were tired of getting kicked around by Heritage Action and Senator Ted Cruz and want the whole thing settled. With Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi keeping her troops in line for a no vote, GOP leaders pulled the bill from the floor.
The conservatives thus undermined whatever small leverage the House GOP had left. Without a united majority of 218 votes, Republicans might as well hand the Speaker’s gavel to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Senate leaders announced immediately that they would resume negotiating to finish a deal that they would bring to the floor as early as Wednesday.
We should add that House Republicans also blundered in refusing to accept the Senate proposal to delay a reinsurance tax of about $60 a year per insured person. Democrats originally passed this tax to help float ObamaCare’s exchanges. Insurers pay the per capita fee, which they can pass along to consumers in higher premiums, and the fee goes to a fund that then pays back the insurers if they end up with a mix of patients with higher than average claims.
House Republicans objected to the delay in the tax because unions supported the delay for their own insurance plans, but that was short-sighted. Senate Democrats were willing to delay the tax for a year to please labor and in return agree to better income verification for Americans who apply for ObamaCare subsidies. So out of political pique, House Republicans opposed two ways to make ObamaCare less destructive. Senate Republicans should try to retain it in their compromise.
This is the quality of thinking—or lack thereof—that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.
President Obama called their bluff, no doubt in part to blame the disruption on the GOP and further tarnish the party’s public image. Now the most Republicans will get out of this is lower public approval and a chance to negotiate with Mr. Obama again before the next debt-limit deadline. If the Senate passes its compromise, Mr. Boehner will have little choice other than to bring it to the floor and let it pass with votes from either party. Mr. Obama will have to deliver enough Democratic votes to pass it.
At least that’s better than getting the blame for whatever happens if Treasury stops sending out Social Security checks in order to prioritize debt repayments. The politics of that are little better than defaulting on debt. Republicans can best help their cause now by getting this over with and moving on to fight more intelligently another day.