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Editorial: Republicans must end demands for ransom

Like that cluster of jellyfish at the Swedish nuclear plant, House Republicans have clogged a bid to keep the federal government open. They took hostage the temporary spending measure passed by the Senate and issued a ransom note saying, “Defund Obamacare, or else.”

Is this any way to run a government? Of course not, but here we go with another meltdown. Last time, it produced the sequester, a witless approach to spending cuts.

Like it or not, the Affordable Care Act passed Congress, was signed by the president and was affirmed as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, the fellow who pushed this through was re-elected president.

In an op-ed for USA Today, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., wrote, “They’ve refused to sit down and engage in a dialogue.” On Obamacare, yes. On the budget, it’s a different story.

The way this normally works is that both chambers adopt a budget, then negotiate the differences. The House and Senate passed their budgets in the spring. For the Democratic-controlled Senate, this was noteworthy because it had failed to pass a budget in recent years. Republicans were right to criticize that inaction.

But since passing a budget, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Democratic colleagues have made many attempts to open negotiations with the House. Each time, a Republican has used Senate rules to block the move. So Congress has had months to find compromises on a dozen appropriation bills. The farm bill – five years in the making – still hasn’t passed. When it became clear that the defund-Obamacare gambit would fail, House Speaker John Boehner urged Senate Democrats to come to the table at the last second. Was this the plan from the beginning? We don’t know, but those talks should have taken place months ago.

Last Sunday, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was asked on “Meet the Press” whether he would be willing to vote for a clean temporary spending bill, meaning Obamacare would be set free. His reply was telling:

“I am not,” Labrador said. “But I think there’s enough people in the Republican Party who are willing to do that. And I think that’s what you’re going to see.”

It seems as if they knew this ploy wouldn’t work, but they proceeded anyway. As if the 41 votes to repeal Obamacare didn’t make their position sufficiently clear. Now this distraction threatens to infect the debate over raising the debt ceiling, an impasse with more dire consequences. Failing to pay the bills would damage the economy and nation’s credit rating.

The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group of former congressional moderates, nailed the problem:

“While fights over policy matters are not unusual in the appropriations process, it is unrealistic and unreasonable to condition funding for all appropriated programs on the dismantling of one particular program,” Executive Director Robert Bixby said.

Moderates of both parties are calling for an end to this melodrama so Congress can take up the serious work members were sent to do.

Time to move on.