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Don’t Reward the Politics of Blackmail, or We’ll See More Shutdowns

More than the fate of health reform (and whether millions of uninsured Americans get health coverage) is at stake in the battle over the government shutdown.  How well — or poorly — our democracy functions is increasingly on the line.

The shutdown battle is not over the funding levels at which the government will operate under a continuing resolution (CR) for fiscal year 2014.  President Obama and Senate Democrats have agreed to accept the Republican position that the CR maintain the fiscal 2013 funding levels, which reflect the sequestration budget cuts.

No, the shutdown is clearly, even nakedly, over a minority of members in one chamber of Congress (the House) trying to use a shutdown to extract, essentially as ransom, an otherwise unachievable legislative goal — to defund, delay, or otherwise unravel health reform.  (It’s a minority of one chamber because if House Speaker John Boehner allowed an up-or-down House vote on the Senate’s clean CR last night, it likely would have passed.)

Thus, the President and the rest of Congress must not give any concessions to hard-line House Republicans in return for ending the shutdown.  The reason is simple:  if they make concessions, then threats of government shutdowns will likely become a regular feature of our political landscape, and more shutdowns will likely occur in coming years.  The President and Congress will have rewarded the tactics of using a shutdown as a form of blackmail, paving the way for its use on a more regular basis.

Few things are more important than the effective functioning of our government.  We’re now at what could be a pivotal, even an historic, moment — one that will go a long way to determine whether shutting down the government, and even defaulting on the national debt, are acceptable ways for a militant, fiercely ideological minority to get its way.  For the sake of our democracy, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.