Government Shutdown Dance Was Just a Warmup
By Jonathan Alter
The root canal Americans experienced over the averted government shutdown may seem painless compared with the operation that’s coming: debate over raising the debt ceiling followed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul the government.
The political fates of President Barack Obama and most of Congress depend on the outcome. While the stakes for the 2011 budget skirmish has been over a few billion dollars, the next fight — over the debt ceiling — is about several hundred billion. Then, Ryan’s proposed rewrite of the nation’s social contract will be about several trillion dollars.
So all the eye-gouging and hair-pulling over spending for the current fiscal year may be just a warm-up for what’s to come. Or it may move Congress to its senses. Then raising the debt ceiling can once again be a routine technical vote (as it has been for generations) and tackling entitlements and the tax code can move to the center of a spirited but rational debate.
For now, it isn’t hard apportioning blame for the month’s unpleasantness. Five years ago, when the shoe was on the other foot — when Democrats were determined to pursue an ideological agenda and cut off funding for the war in Iraq — they didn’t threaten to shut down the government in order to get their way.