THE FEDERAL government’s authority to spend money on discretionary programs expires at midnight on Sept. 30 — just a week from Wednesday . As we write, no one can be sure that Congress will pass a law keeping the government funded beyond that date and thereby enable it to avoid a partial shutdown. In the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) reportedly has a plan that would permit his caucus to stage a symbolic vote against Planned Parenthood without risking a shutdown. The bigger problem is in the House, where Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) is struggling — once again — to rein in far-right conservatives who are willing to pass a funding bill only if it reflects their priorities, in this case, by “defunding” Planned Parenthood. That is, they prefer grandstanding, on behalf of a cause most Americans don’t support, to governing the country.
Dysfunctional as this situation is, it’s only the prelude to a series of potential impasses, of which the next will be the need to replace the current short-term transportation bill, which expires Oct. 30. Not long after that, the government will hit its $18.15 trillion debt limit, followed, on Dec. 31, by the expiration of about 50 special tax breaks, such as those for wind energy or state and local tax payments — worth about $40 billion. Obviously, getting over these hurdles would be a modest feat compared with the passage of timely appropriations bills and tax reform, which would represent actual policymaking but are probably beyond Congress’s capability given the polarization of Washington.
The leader best positioned to spare us this season of costly uncertainty is Mr. Boehner. Yes, President Obama makes the task harder by insisting on “dollar for dollar” equality in increases in domestic and military spending, contrary to most Republicans’ preferences. And, yes, a lot of the chaos in the House is beyond Mr. Boehner’s control, in that it reflects pressure on the GOP caucus from a party base gripped by the delusion that the majority they sent to Congress should have been able to shift policy far to the right despite Mr. Obama’s veto power.
Still, as Mr. Boehner himself undoubtedly realizes, the ultras in his caucus are not only acting contrary to the national interest, but they are also acting contrary to the Republican Party’s own long-term political interest. By demonstrating the impossibility of overcoming a Democratic filibuster on defunding Planned Parenthood, Mr. McConnell’s plan may help House holdouts see reason. If it does not, however, the speaker must guarantee continued government funding, even if it means passing a bill with support of Democrats. No doubt that might trigger an internal rebellion and put his speakership at risk. A leader would take the chance.
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