The deal that ended the torturous default crisis Wednesday has unfortunately delivered Congress right back where it was in the weeks before the destructive stalemate began.
Congress did what it had to do to avoid the unpredictable economic chaos that would have ensued had tea party Republicans forced the nation to default on some of its financial obligations for the first time in history. But lawmakers, who are just as divided as ever, are again facing a tight deadline to agree on a budget before the federal government's funding and borrowing authority run out in the next few months.
The only chance the public has of coming out of this latest crisis a winner is if the uncompromising anti-government fever on the Republican right has been broken by this faction's ignominious defeat.
The small core of willful Republicans who pushed the nation to the brink of default -- and cost the economy billions of dollars in the process -- got nothing tangible to show for the carnage. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, along with a few GOP moderates, won the unconditional end to the government shutdown and increase in the debt ceiling they had demanded all along. Losing in such spectacular fashion won't change the tea party's political views, nor that of puppet masters such as Heritiage Action. But it should help them see the futility of their tactics.
If it doesn't, the more moderate Republican enablers, both inside and outside the government, should now see the folly of following the extremists' lead. Unless they want a sequel, the moderates will grab the whistle and call the plays from now on.
That includes people like Rep. Peter King of Seaford, one of the very few Republicans who publicly took on Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and his ilk in an effort to avert the recent crisis. But deep-pocket, mainstream organizations that support the GOP, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have to step up, too.
The default drivers have had their way largely because their backers threatened primaries against any Republicans who bucked them. The party's mainstream backers should meet fire with fire by throwing their money behind any incumbents the tea party targets.
For their part, Obama and the Democrats did the nation a favor by stiffening their spines and refusing to bargain with Republicans as long as they held the nation's full faith and credit hostage. It will take that kind of resolve, coupled with some enlightened Republican self-interest, to end the brinkmanship that has made Congress a bad joke.
Congress has to get back to doing the public's business in the spirit of compromise. Obama laid out an agenda Thursday that includes enacting immigration reform and a farm bill. He should add urgently getting the bugs out of the incompetently launched Obamacare website that has frustrated efforts to sign up for health insurance.
But most important, Congress has to negotiate a responsible budget by the Dec. 15 deadline it set for itself. Unless it does, the government could be headed for another shutdown on Jan. 15, and yet another debt crisis as soon as mid-February.
That's a past that should not be repeated.