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Politics

Blame McConnell and Ryan for the shutdown

Catherine Rampell on

This time they were successful. But while they futzed around with the Obamacare repeal and $1.5 trillion in plutocratic tax cuts, more time-sensitive crises accumulated.

Some, such as the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico, were natural. Others were man-made: Authorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapsed, leaving 9 million low-income kids in limbo. And with McConnell and Ryan's blessing, President Trump announced that undocumented immigrants brought here as children would be subject to deportation come March, unless Congress acted.

No matter. The only thing McConnell and Ryan felt any urgency to work on was stuff their donors care about. They focused on that, and orchestrated more stopgap budgetary measures in their spare time. Monday's, in fact, represents the fourth stopgap 2018 funding bill, with this one set to expire on Feb. 8. It does, at least, include a six-year reauthorization of CHIP.

Don't get me wrong. Trump has not exactly been helpful in brokering a deal on budgets, health care, immigration or other major policy issues. When he has gotten involved, he's often struggled to remember what's existing law, what his own positions are and how the legislative process even works.

McConnell and Ryan have no such excuse. Collectively, they have served five decades in Congress. They know Congress' arcane procedures and obligations and, again, they set the agenda. To date, that agenda has not included a single serious budget deal.

Somehow this dynamic duo still takes no responsibility for our lack of a budget. They're like students who play video games instead of writing their term paper, plead for extensions, still wait until the last minute to start writing -- and then blame the teacher when they don't finish.

As embarrassing as this shutdown was (and as embarrassing as another one will be if there's no budget agreement by Feb. 8), shutdowns are not catastrophic. Far more worrisome is what McConnell and Ryan's abdication of leadership means for another showdown rapidly approaching.

Because, unfortunately, the budget isn't the only basic responsibility they've been shirking. There's also the matter of safeguarding the validity of the public debt, a constitutional requirement.

 

Rather than substantially raising (or, better yet, eliminating) the statutory debt limit, Congress has likewise relied on a series of stopgap measures for paying our creditors over the past year. The Treasury Department has had to resort to "extraordinary" accounting measures to stave off a debt default, which could trigger a worldwide financial crisis.

The latest round of such measures, which began in early December, will likely be exhausted sometime in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, the markets look nervous.

Yet instead of laying the groundwork now to prevent default, McConnell and Ryan engage in hashtag wars. They're cutting more taxes. Ryan is even fantasizing about slashing entitlements.

#McConnellRyanShutdown is bad enough. Let's hope #McConnellRyanCrash isn't next.

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Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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