For the two weeks of the federal government shutdown, Democrats in Washington have been united behind a principle - that political parties shouldn’t be allowed to govern by extortion. That’s what Republicans in the U.S. House did when they shut down the government in a quixotic attempt to defund Obamacare. It’s 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, who’ve criticized their far-right colleagues for the damage they’ve 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. …
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 shouldn’t be subject to ransom. They should have held to that principle, so that we’re not governing by extortion all over again soon.