The Hill reports this morning that another “tense standoff,” one similar to the chaos that erupted around Department of Homeland Security funding, is likely to unfold around the need to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to run low on funding this spring. Business groups — and the Obama administration — are warning of disaster if funding for ongoing infrastructure projects evaporates, while conservative groups are insisting Republicans agree to devolve infrastructure back to the states. Yet John Boehner is already on record saying he wants to replenish infrastructure funding. He just hasn’t said how it should be paid for. Sound familiar?
In the case of infrastructure, it should be noted that the failure is bipartisan: Democrats have also been far too reluctant to support the obvious solution, i.e., a hike in the gas tax.
But then there’s the debt ceiling, where the culpability for any crisis will be a lot clearer: It will lie with Republicans who oppose a clean debt limit hike. The Treasury Department is warning that we are close to hitting the debt limit, and is asking Congress rather laughably to “address this mater without controversy or brinksmanship.” Mitch McConnell recently pledged that Republicans will not allow us to “default on the national debt, but in the very next breath, he added that he hoped a debt ceiling hike “might carry some other important legislation that we can agree on in connection with it,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
GOP leaders may fully intend to fund infrastructure and avoid default. But the battle over Homeland Security funding is a reminder: Even when they know exactly how these standoffs will end — with the stiff-arming of conservatives and the moving of must-pass legislation with the help of Democrats — they will postpone the inevitable for as long as possible, in an always-futile effort to persuade conservatives that they fought the good fight to the bitter end. Which suggests that the best case scenario is that ultimately, further crises will be avoided, but only after more bouts of messy, protracted, and (in the case of the debt ceiling in particular) destructive drama.
We are all thralls to the 18% of America who voted to keep the GOP in charge of Congress. The default mode of our country is hopelessly, stupidly broken, because MURICA.