Congress continued flirting with disaster Tuesday as Republicans scrambled to appease their tea party faction, which seems all too willing to risk the perilous unknown of government default. Those uncompromising ideologues can derail the government, but only if their more moderate Republican colleagues let it happen. The party's cooler heads must stop the madness.
Congress appeared tantalizingly close early Tuesdayto settling on the critical elements of a deal to fund the government through Jan. 15 and to extend its ability to borrow through mid-February, creating room for tough negotiations on spending and taxes. The plan had bipartisan support in the Senate and formed the basis of a proposal that Republican leaders in the House of Representatives floated to end the impasse. House Speaker John Boehner should have left well enough alone and put those core provisions up for a vote.
But to mollify the tea party faction of his Republican majority, which is still looking against all odds to extract a pound of flesh from Obamacare, he added provisions to delay the law's tax on medical devices and eliminate the employer health care contribution for White House officials, members of Congress and their staffs. That won't fly in the Senate or with House Democrats. And President Barack Obama has insisted all along that he won't negotiate changes in his signature health care law in exchange for raising the nation's debt ceiling. He's right not to reward those holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage.
So after the Fitch rating agency warned it could downgrade the credit rating of the United States, Washington is scrambling to find a way forward with the nation maybe just days away from becoming a deadbeat. After shutting down the government and risking default in an attempt to gut Obamacare, tea party Republicans now see saving face as more important than safeguarding the nation's good name. The best-case scenario is that they will push to the brink of default, but no further. Worst case, they will drive the nation over the edge into a dangerous economic unknown.