(Sept. 30 -- By the Editorial Board)
They can spin it all they want, but House Republicans manufactured the crisis that now threatens to shut down the federal government and wreak havoc on world finances. Unless they budge, they will go down in history as hostage takers willing to tank the economy if their demands are not met.
Republicans blame Democrats for not agreeing to their terms, but why should the Senate Democratic majority negotiate with hostage takers? Voters in the last election had an opportunity to reject Obamacare by electing Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. By a wide margin, they chose not to do so.
Repeatedly over the last several years, Republicans have attempted to repeal Obamacare. They lacked the votes to do so. Instead of accepting that outcome and seeking to change it through the ballot box, House Republicans have adopted extortion methods to land a victory they could not earn through this nation's system of representative government.
Worse yet, they seem willing to inflict enormous harm on federal workers, services and the shaky economic recovery.
If the government is shut down - and as this editorial went to press, that appeared inevitable - about 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed without pay. Social security payments could be delayed. Health care for veterans could be curtailed. New loan guarantees will go unprocessed at the Federal Housing Authority. The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patents for clinical research, and the list goes on and on.
Wall Street reacted with alarm Monday at the prospect of a shutdown, but the bigger economic danger looms two weeks out. That is when the United States will reach its borrowing limit. If that cap is not increased, the nation will default on its outstanding debt, potentially sending the world economy into a tailspin.
And for what?
House Speaker John Boehner says Obamacare is a "train wreck." But what's really a wreck is the current system of health care, which prevents people with pre-existing conditions from getting health insurance. It's a system in which a family's entire life savings can be wiped out by a stroke or bout with cancer. It's a system that utterly fails in providing preventive care that would bring down staggering medical costs for diabetes, heart disease and other preventable diseases.
Obamacare, however complex and imperfect it may be, offers the prospect of medical coverage for nearly everyone, and a shift toward preventive services that will save us all in the long run. House Republicans, instead of offering ideas to improve Obamacare, would rather shut down the government than give the Affordable Care Act a chance to be implemented.
The Senate on Monday refused to meet the House's terms, a move that Boehner previously said would be "an act of breathtaking arrogance by the Senate Democratic leadership."
Yet it is Boehner whose arrogance and weakness is breathtaking. It might have cost him his leadership position, but Boehner could have stood up to the tea party extremists, especially with support from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Instead, the three pandered to the most reckless and ill-informed members of their caucus, refusing to send the Senate a clean funding bill stripped of the condition that Obamacare be delayed.
Boehner will go down as the least courageous leader of a chamber of Congress in recent memory. If the government is shut down, he and Cantor and McCarthy will not only confront the consequences, they will own them.