In Our View: Congress Must Slay Monster

It's time to stop kicking debt limit issue down the road and address it fully



One of the enduring plot devices in horror movies is that of the monster that won’t stay dead. You know the one. When all seems calm and the heroes are catching their breath, the potential killer reappears.

Such is the case with the fractious recent debate over the federal debt limit. After the government was partially shut down for two weeks, an agreement was forged before the deadline that could have forced the United States to default on its debts. That allowed lawmakers, President Obama and the breathless media to heave a sigh of relief. But with the extension merely pushing the deadline into January, Congress could well be having the same debate three months from now. They didn’t kill the monster. They simply left its seemingly lifeless body laying on the lawn and turned their backs. We know what always happens after that.

Locally, there are two salient points relating to the partial shutdown and the eventual agreement. On Tuesday, one day before calmer heads prevailed, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said it was time for Republicans to give up the fight.

“Like it or not,” she said, “the White House and the Senate have blocked efforts to address the issues with the Affordable Care Act. Nothing positive will be achieved by prolonging this shutdown any longer, or crossing the debt limit threshold. It’s time for my colleagues to face reality.”

Herrera Beutler was correct, and her statement was well-reasoned, even if the need for Republicans to face reality was apparent a week or two earlier.

The second lesson to be gleaned as far as local politics is concerned is that we should be thankful for our state’s top-two primary system. Much of the Republicans’ intransigence regarding the partial shutdown was driven by strict ideologues manufactured in part by their states’ primary systems. Many moderate representatives on both sides of the aisle are scared away from acting, well, moderately, out of fear from facing challenges in their one-party primaries.

For many representatives from staunchly conservative districts, their most daunting electoral challenges come in the primaries. If a Republican can be labeled as a RINO — Republican In Name Only — he or she is certain to face a more conservative candidate in the primary and might not make it to the general election.

In Washington’s system, the top two vote-getters in open primaries advance to the general election — even if the top two are from the same party. That leaves some room for representatives who lean toward the center, for candidates who might not cater to the fringes of their party but who will stand a better chance of winning a general election.

In the end, the partial shutdown of the federal government proved to have more bluster than impact. And it proved to yield little to benefit Republicans. As Rep. Thomas H. Massie, R-Ky., said, “Goose egg, nothing, we got nothing.” And as Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said, “This party is going nuts.”

Still, the battle over the debt-limit ceiling is a battle worth fighting. The national debt is nearly $17 trillion, and this system of constantly and blindly raising the debt limit is unsustainable. Federal spending must be curtailed, but Republicans erred in linking that battle to an unwinnable crusade against Obamacare. The result has been partisan politics at its worst.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., vowed: “We’re not going to go through the shutdown again. There’s too much damage. We’re not going to shut down the government again. I guarantee it.”

We’ll see. We’re guessing that monster will rise again.