On the Verge of a Re-Opened Federal Government

On the Verge of a Re-Opened Federal Government

This has been a tough couple of weeks for political observers like me.

Wait . . . sorry.

This has been an incredibly tough couple of weeks for hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees and their families. It’s been even tougher for anyone hamstrung while they await a federal government permit, for families with children in Head Start programs that closed their doors, for families with critically ill children in home care, and for lots of other folk directly affected by the federal government shutdown. For political observers like me, the problem has been how to do our job in the midst of such chaos. For these other folks, the problem was how to survive.

The protracted impasse in Washington over continuing funding resolutions and especially over lifting the debt ceiling already has cost us as a nation, at least on paper. The turmoil has adversely impacted the bond market, especially the short-term bond market, increasing the cost of federal government borrowing. It prompted the third largest debt-rating firm, Fitch, to put a negative rating watch on U.S. treasury bonds, a signal to investors that Fitch might downgrade the U.S.’s AAA rating, something that also would increase the cost of federal government borrowing. In short, both of these examples are signs that the recent political turmoil purportedly over getting the federal government’s fiscal house in order have had the effect, however modestly, of making the federal debt problem larger, not smaller.

Perhaps most frustrating of all, it seemed clear to many of us (most of us?) that the official goal of the all this political conflict, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, was a fool’s errand to begin with.Back in September, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) put the situation as simply and clearly as any government professor could have done:

Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is. We do not have the political power to do this.

And Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) predicted exactly how things would turn out if the government was shut down and the raising of the debt ceiling put in jeopardy:

In the United States Senate, we will not repeal or defund Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational. To somehow think we are going to defund it is simply not going to happen at this time, and it will, in my opinion, as it did before, harm the American people’s view of the Republican party.

Obamacare has not been defunded. And recent polls from NBC/Wall Street Journal and Gallup give stunning evidence of the harm the political maneuvering in Washington has done to the Republican brand.

Was it worth it?

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