Hours before a seismic payments-default emanating from the United States was about to rock global financial markets, the small coterie of ultra-conservatives in the House of Representatives holding America hostage to debt-ceiling negotiations blinked. The eleventh-hour Republican surrender on Wednesday night may have saved Washington from the ugly economic backlash of national insolvency, but it came too late for nearly 800,000 furloughed workers who forfeited their pay for the previous 16 days of unavoidable federal government shutdown. It was also too late for the limping, post-recession economy, which took a $24 billion-hit and had its annualised GDP trimmed by as much as one percentage point. A fuming President Barack Obama, who refused to reprise his 2011 approach of yielding concessions in exchange for a debt-ceiling hike, described the Republican blockade as “ransom demands” and “extortion.” He is right to do so. Underscoring their credentials for reckless adventurism, the anti-Obamacare crusaders in the House failed to win all but a single minor amendment to the game-changing healthcare reform policy of 2010, an anti-fraud measure requiring stricter vetting of income qualifications for those participating in the insurance “exchanges” established under the Affordable Care Act.
However for the people of the United States, there can be only one thing worse than a crisis of this magnitude — a second such crisis four months down the road. There is indeed a serious risk of the same events recurring on January 15, when funding for the government will again dry up, and it could reach its climax by February 7, when the U.S. Treasury's borrowing authority will expire. Facing mid-term elections next November, will the Tea Party and far-right conservatives in the House push this country to the brink again? While the passage of time will make it harder to derail Mr. Obama’s consolidation of his second-term legacy, the countervailing force is the philosophical metamorphosis of the Republican Party, a steady drift to the right. Exacerbating this trend is the steady loss of mainstream Republican control over the extremist insurrection within their ranks, a phenomenon plainly demonstrated by their inability to end the shutdown sooner. Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell poetically assured his constituents that his party wouldn’t go in for an encore performance next year because there is “no education in the second kick of a mule,” his words must sound hollow to millions of middle class families in the country who felt the pinch of Washington’s paralysis and certainly to an incredulous world audience that was readying itself for another made-in-America economic debacle.
Keywords: U.S. federal government shutdown, U.S. fiscal crisis, Congress standoff, Obama administration, U.S. Senate deal, funding deadline, Obamacare, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Tea Party, John Boehner