In an ominous sign, Republican leaders in the U.S. House last week had to delay a vote to keep the government running through mid-December because they didn't have enough support. Once again, unfortunately, budget hard-liners in the GOP caucus are threatening to shut down the government in order to extract spending concessions.
In this case, however, the desired concession -- defunding the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare -- is beyond unlikely. It has essentially no chance of occurring without a major change in the political landscape in Washington.
So long as President Obama resides in the White House and the Senate is controlled by Democrats, Obamacare is not going away.
In contrast with some of their backbenchers, House Republican leaders had proposed -- and hope to revive this week -- a plan to continue funding the government through mid-December that includes the same level of sequester cuts. Meanwhile, they'd float a separate measure to defund Obamacare.
That second measure would, of course, be ignored in the Senate, but that is the sort of thing that happens in a divided Congress. Each side is often able to check the other.
It's not as if the GOP leadership is squishy on Obamacare. As The New York Times reported last week, those leaders have signaled that "Republicans would support an essential increase in the nation's debt limit in mid-October only if President Obama and Democrats agree to delay putting his health insurance program into full effect."
To be clear, the debt limit is a separate issue from the funding of government. Unless the ceiling is raised, the government will be unable to pay its bills and the nation's credit rating would be jeopardized.
But holding the debt ceiling hostage to Obamacare -- or anything else -- is equally misguided, in our view, and probably fated to hurt Republicans more than Democrats. The nation is obligated to pay its debts, and political gamesmanship shouldn't be injected into the process.
It's true, of course, that the Obama administration itself has postponed one of the Affordable Care Act's mandates affecting medium and large employers. And it's equally the case that non-partisan bureaucrats in several federal agencies have raised questions about whether the timetable for other elements of the health care act is too ambitious as well.
But those questions should be decided on their merits, not as the result of a power play on the debt ceiling.
--By The Denver Post, Sept. 14