Barring a rare outbreak of rational behavior among House Republicans, the federal government will partially shut down beginning Tuesday. Essential functions such as the military, air traffic control and the processing of Social Security checks won't be interrupted. With about 800,000 federal employees furloughed, however, the shutdown will be disruptive to business as usual.
But this isn't the main event. The real moment of truth comes Oct. 17, when the U.S. Treasury estimates it will run short of money. Unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, Washington would default on some of its financial obligations. Staggering from one doomsday to the next is an absurd way to run the government. That has to change, but it won't as long as a minority of House Republicans calls the shots.
This group's laundry list of demands are politically unrealistic. They include delaying the Affordable Care Act, gutting environmental laws and weakening federal regulatory authority in exchange for funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. Democrats who control the White House and the Senate are not going to abandon hard-won health care reform. And they shouldn't negotiate over the debt ceiling. The U.S. government's ability to meet its obligations should never be held hostage.
Republicans presenting those ultimatums are playing a dangerous game. Sacrificing the nation's sterling credit rating and its economic recovery in pursuit of a political wish list is irresponsible.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio should be a leader, not a follower of the approximately 30 members of the GOP who are determined to do real harm to the nation if Obamacare is not defunded. He should work with more moderate Republicans, including Peter King of Seaford, to isolate the fringe of the party that is obstructing government operations. Government by extortion is no way to do the people's business.