With the federal government shut down because Congress cannot agree on a resolution to keep it running, it would be tempting to clamor for compromise, as many already have. It would also be wrong.
Compromise is what happens when factions in Congress cannot agree on a piece of legislation, so each side gives a little to satisfy the other and accepts some things they do not like in return so the bill can pass. That's what happened — repeatedly — in the long process of enacting the Affordable Care Act. That's one reason it is as complicated as it is, and why it preserves a role for private insurance companies rather than relying on the government to insure everyone.
But now, even as the Affordable Care Act is beginning the early phase of enrolling people without insurance, House Republicans who never liked the health care reform law are trying to prevent it from being implemented by voting to fund all parts of government except the ACA.
The GOP has backed away from complete defunding, now saying it would accept a one-year delay. And the House is busily passing bills to reopen a few high-profile, politically popular federal agencies knowing full well the Senate and the president will not accept a piecemeal approach.
That's not an attempt at compromise. That's an ultimatum. That's the House GOP declaring that if the playground game doesn't follow their rules, they'll take their ball and go home.
The real threat looming now is not the shutdown, though that is bad enough. If the debt ceiling isn't raised by Oct 17 so the government can pay the bills it has already agreed to pay, the specter of a federal government default enters the picture.
This is not a full-throated defense of the ACA, known by its detractors as "Obamacare." The law is not perfect. Far from it. It remains to be seen how well it will work, and what may need to be done to improve it. But that doesn't change a few facts GOP conservatives and their supporters would do well to remember:
The Affordable Care Act is law. It was enacted when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. That's the way the system works. When you have the votes, you can pass laws you like. When you don't have the votes, you work to win elections so you do have the votes.
The Republicans now have the majority in the House, but not in the Senate. If they want to change the ACA — or repeal it entirely, as the House has voted to do dozens of times already — they have to convince enough of their Senate colleagues to go along. If they can't do that, they need to win enough seats in the next election to control both houses and override presidential vetoes.
Until then, they should live with the law that is on the books, not threaten to wreck the economy if they don't get their way.
House Speaker John Boehner tried to warn his caucus that triggering a government shutdown was a bad idea. But the tea-party wing of the House GOP, which wields more clout than its support among the public at large would justify, thanks to careful redistricting, forced his hand. If he wants to keep his job, Boehner has no choice but to represent the will of his caucus, trying to sound reasonable in expressing what is essentially an unreasonable position.
"The American people don't want their government shut down, and neither do I," the speaker said Friday. "All we're asking for is to sit down and have a discussion, reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare."
How accommodating. Let's "have a discussion" with the threat of a potentially global economic catastrophe hanging over the outcome.
That doesn't sound fair to us.