It's going to be a long weekend in Washington. The Senate approved a temporary spending plan Friday, but conservative House Republicans are continuing to threaten to shut down the government Tuesday unless money for the Affordable Care Act is cut. It is a dangerous game of chicken that could disrupt the lives of millions of Americans, and Florida Republicans should rise above it.
Sen. Marco Rubio did not set a good example Friday. He predictably voted against the temporary spending plan, which passed 54-44 along party lines. More revealing is that before that vote, Rubio joined the most extreme members of his party to vote against cutting off debate and allowing the drama to play out. Rubio and his fellow tea party allies were on the losing end of a 79-19 vote, as the Senate Republican leadership voted with Democrats in a rebuke of the extremists. Floridians deserve more responsible leadership.
Barring an unexpected reality check, the only clear way to avoid a government shutdown on Tuesday is for reasonable House Republicans to join with Democrats to approve the temporary spending bill. Tampa Bay Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Richard Nugent of Spring Hill, Dennis Ross of Lakeland and C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores have a decision to make.
Do they want to stick with the tea party fringe, or do they want to avoid delaying paychecks for those serving in the military at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and around the world?
Do they want to make a political point to conservatives, or do they want to avoid a delay in processing applications for Social Security and Medicare?
Do they want Congress to stop functioning, or do they want to keep open national parks and keep paying government contractors?
The only thing worse than this avoidable stalemate is the one coming up over raising the debt ceiling. The federal government is expected to hit the ceiling around Oct. 17, when it would run out of money to pay for expenses already approved unless it can borrow more money. President Barack Obama said Friday that would be worse than a government shutdown, and he made clear he will not negotiate. A laundry list of predictable Republican demands, from derailing the Affordable Care Act to dropping regulations on greenhouse gases, are nonstarters. And as Obama noted, raising the debt limit is about keeping the government running and not about partisan politics.
"That's not doing a favor for me,'' the president said.
This is government by artificial crisis, and Floridians who depend on federal programs from Social Security and Medicare to federally guaranteed home loans are the casualties. There are still enough reasonable Republicans in Washington who want to serve their constituents, keep the government functioning and avoid roiling the fragile economy. Rubio made it clear again Friday he is not one of them. Whether there are any left in Florida's House delegation will become clearer in the next few days.