The last thing Florida and the nation needs is another manufactured financial crisis. Yet congressional Republicans are creating one by threatening to shut down the federal government next week unless a temporary spending bill cuts all funding for the Affordable Care Act. It is a reckless strategy that is doomed to fail, and Florida voters should hold Sen. Marco Rubio and House Republicans accountable for risking the economic recovery to play partisan politics.
Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Richard Nugent of Spring Hill, Dennis Ross of Lakeland and C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores followed the Republican Party line last week in voting for the House plan that the Senate is expected to reject. This is not in the best interests of Tampa Bay, where the economy is just now coming back and thousands of their constituents need health coverage. Young, the defense appropriations subcommittee chairman who has spent decades negotiating compromises and pushing spending bills through Congress, should know better than anyone the potential consequences of this foolish tea party-fueled mission.
Rubio is particularly shameless in his attacks on the Affordable Care Act and his willingness to trigger a budget crisis over health care reform, President Barack Obama's signature achievement. Here is a first-term senator building a fundraising network that could be used to run for president, yet he is standing with extremists such as Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas who are aiming to shut the government down. Is the real Marco Rubio the responsible one who helped pass a bipartisan immigration bill, or the immature one willing to shut down the government and jeopardize Florida's economy?
Republicans in Tallahassee and Washington should acknowledge they have lost the fight over health care reform and try to improve it rather than sabotage it. They lost in Congress, and they lost in the courts. They lost the presidential election, and they failed to win control of the U.S. Senate. Obama and the Senate will not back down on health care reform, and they shouldn't. If the federal government shuts down next week because congressional Republicans won't embrace a temporary spending plan unless it neuters the Affordable Care Act, it will be the Republicans who will be blamed.
Floridians will feel the consequences if Congress fails to agree on a temporary spending plan by Tuesday, and the financial markets will not react well. Among the likely consequences: Hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be sent home on unpaid furloughs; paychecks for military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and elsewhere would be delayed; and national parks and monuments would close. Social Security and Medicare checks would go out, but new applications would not be processed. The Federal Housing Administration would stop guaranteeing home loans; passport applications would stop being reviewed; and government contractors would stop being paid. This is self-inflicted pain that can be avoided if reasonable Republicans stand up for their constituents.
The budget fight is only the first act. Congress also must raise the federal debt limit in several weeks or the nation will not be able to pay bills it already has incurred. Raising that limit used to be routine, but congressional Republicans pledge to use the deadline as another opportunity to fight the health care law. Forcing a debt default would reverberate through the global economy.
This is not inside baseball in Washington that Floridians can ignore. Voters should demand that the Republicans they sent to Washington act responsibly, stand up to the extremists and avoid creating an economic crisis.