Our View

After shutdown, Congress must gear up for work

By From page A12 | October 23, 2013

The issue: Maybe the lawmakers learned something from this last round and will be chastened into reaching agreement

In a perfect world, Congress’ near-death experience with sovereign default would present an opportunity for the United States — to restore our reputation for economic stability and the status of our Treasury bills as the world’s safest investment, and to return our shambles of a budget process to something approaching orderliness.

Efficiency perhaps is too much to ask for.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS will need a brief period to get over their hurt feelings that they forced a 16-day partial government shutdown, idled about 450,000 federal workers, inflicted at least $20 billion in direct damage to the U.S. economy and indirect damage that is still being totaled and got absolutely nothing for it, except a major decline in the party’s standing with the public.

The end of this week should do it.

Democrats have, at least so far, admirably resisted the temptation to gloat, even though their strategy consisted largely of doing nothing but enjoying the spectacle of the GOP’s most extreme wing repeatedly thwarting the party’s mainstream leadership.

But a glory of our democracy is that it offers endless second chances. The settlement that ended the government shutdown early Thursday offered three of them: in December, January and February.

BY DEC. 13, House and Senate budget negotiators are to reach a deal on deficit reduction — uphill work helped immeasurably by the fact that the Senate finally passed a budget.

The Senate and House versions are miles apart, but smart lawmakers have spackled over greater differences. The House bill by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., calls for $4.6 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years, with much of those savings coming from gutting the Affordable Care Act, anathema to Democrats. The Senate version, by Patty Murray, D-Wash, calls for $2 trillion in budget reductions, largely by a $1 trillion tax increase, similarly anathema to Republicans.

The fact that the two sides have agreed to meet, set a deadline and have detailed documents to work from is progress. Agreement is an outside possibility, but it’s a start.

Then come even more critical deadlines.

ON JAN. 15, the settlement ending the government shutdown expires and must be extended, renegotiated or, in the best of circumstances, replaced by an actual budget.

On or about Feb. 7, the government’s borrowing will need to be extended again. In other words, in a few short months Congress could be fighting the same battles all over again.

Maybe the lawmakers learned something from this last round and will be chastened into reaching agreement by the collateral economic damage they inflicted on an innocent citizenry. But that would be in a perfect world.

Our View

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