WHAT OTHERS SAY: Back from the brink, at least for now

Saturday, October 19, 2013 | 2:36 p.m. CDT

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? The nation hasn’t had such an exciting October since 1962, when John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev went nose to nose for 13 days over Russian missiles in Cuba.

This October, it was 16 days, financial catastrophe not nuclear war. It was another young Democratic president, but Cuba had nothing to do with it, unless you count Cuban-American Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Which would be unfair to Cuba.

The Great Shutdown/Debt Ceiling Crisis of 2013 ended with a whimper late Wednesday night when enough House Republicans stopped holding their breath long enough to approve a deal carved out by the grown-ups in the Senate.

The government will be funded — complete with destructive sequestration cuts — until Jan. 15. The Treasury can issue bonds to cover the government’s debts until mid-February. The House and Senate will sit down — again — and try to work out a longer-term budget deal.

Sixteen days of government shutdown accomplished absolutely nothing, unless you consider as accomplishments eliminating $24 billion from the economy, shaving 0.3 percent off fourth-quarter GDP growth and increasing unemployment by 0.6 percent, the equivalent of 900,000 jobs. The estimates were compiled by Macroeconomic Advisers of Clayton, not exactly a bastion of socialism, for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

The deal will get the economy through the holidays, but the whole process could start again shortly after New Year’s Day. If Republicans are smart — admittedly, a big if — they’ll realize they’ll have even less leverage in January than they had in October.

The new year will bring another round of sequester cuts, these falling most heavily on the Defense Department. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., knew that when he agreed to the Jan. 15 funding deadline. If House and Senate negotiators don’t find a way around the sequestration cuts, enacted in 2011 as a way to mandate deficit reductions, then $20 billion will be slashed from the defense budget. And since the military’s operations budgets already have been cut, that $20 billion is expected to come out of weapons contracts.

The Boeing Co. makes war planes and missiles in Missouri, last we heard. This should be of some interest to Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and her five Missouri GOP colleagues in the House who voted “no” on Wednesday night.

Wagner, having voted against the deal, nonetheless told the Post-Dispatch’s Bill Lambrecht she was “absolutely relieved that the government is going to open and we won’t have a debt crisis.”

To which the only sane response is, “Huh?”

In some ways, we sympathize with Wagner. She is a classic Main Street Republican, a former co-chairman of the National Republican Party who got a plum appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg — no divisive issues there — during the administration of President George W. Bush. Her husband, Ray, a vice president at Enterprise Holdings, is a pillar of the St. Louis business community.

But Wagner decided to run for Congress, to succeed the legendary Rep. Todd Akin, at the same time the Missouri Republican Party was captured by the tea party right. The people she grew up with in party politics, people like former Sens. John Danforth and Christopher “Kit” Bond, had checked out. People like Ed “Obama wants to deny you a chance at salvation” Martin, now chairman of the state GOP, had checked in.

So, as Wagner faces her first re-election campaign — always the toughest one — next year, she was faced with the choice: country or career? Her “no” vote Wednesday may keep her from facing a tea party challenger in next August’s primary, but it surely can’t be one she is proud of.

She has plenty of company. The “hard core” tea party caucus in the House is reckoned to be 41 members. There were 144 “no” votes Wednesday, all Republicans. So roughly 103 members, including Wagner, were willing to let the nation default on its debt rather than face GOP voters with the stain of integrity on their records.

It remains to be seen whether Democrats can capitalize on this. The Democrats would have to pick up 18 seats in next year’s election, and lose zero, to regain control of the House. A statistical analysis this week by Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium said that if the election were held today, Democrats might gain 30 seats. But much can change in a year. Given how few House districts are truly competitive, and given that history says that the party that doesn’t control the White House does better in off-year elections, and given new campaign finance laws that favor GOP candidates, the return of Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems improbable.

But not out of the question, particularly if the GOP plays another round of debt-ceiling brinksmanship next year.

That won’t happen, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN Wednesday.“We may still have some gridlock (but) ... we’re not going to shut down the government again. I guarantee it.”

It would be nice to think so, but there are an awful lot of people who profit by continuing chaos. They work in think-tanks, interest groups and partisan media, raising money from extremists, paying themselves nice salaries to foment faux outrage.

President Barack Obama said there had been “no winners” in the fight, declining a Yasiel Puig-like victory celebration. In remarks Thursday morning, he said: “Now that the government has reopened and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do, and that’s grow this economy, create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, educate our kids, lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul. That’s why we’re here. That should be our focus.”

Good luck with that, Mr. President.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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