Is there another federal government shutdown in our immediate future? That’s how it’s shaping up, if irresponsible members of Congress have their way when the nation’s elected representatives return to Capitol Hill this week after the summer recess.
The immediate issue is a vow by ardent conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others to reject any spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood because of its involvement with abortion. The effort is similar to a tactic they backed in 2011 in an earlier fight over abortion, and once more in 2013 in a bid to cut funding for the Affordable Care Act.
Neither worked out well for Republicans. Last time, they lost on the substantive issue, and the public blamed the GOP for the temporary loss of government services during the costly shutdown.
Yet, amazing as it may seem, they’re willing to try this kamikaze stunt again. They should know better by now. They’re likely to lose, and once more they’ll be seen as disruptive and ineffective.
It will be up to adults like Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who promised upon becoming Republican leader in the upper chamber that there would be no government shutdowns on his watch, to block the effort. He’s no friend of Planned Parenthood and abortion, but he knows how to pick his battles. This one’s a loser.
Republicans who control the agenda should focus, instead, on other urgent national issues. At the top of the priority list: passing a bill to pay for long-term repairs on our crumbling roads and bridges.
The House passed a totally inadequate three-month extension before going on summer recess, but that merely kicks the can down the pothole-riddled road. The Associated General Contractors of America said construction employment fell in 25 states this summer as agencies waited for Congress to act on highway and transit funding. Is this any way to run a government?
Another priority is reviving the moribund Export-Import Bank. Some months ago, Mr. Cruz and other ideological conservatives succeeded in blocking funding for this agency, which helps businesses large and small in states that thrive on international commerce. The victory by the extremist wing of the party was a loss for places like South Florida, where so many businesses rely on the Ex-Im Bank.
The bank is still managing its $107-billion loan portfolio, but — just as global trade competition reaches cutthroat levels — it can no longer underwrite new loans. Supporters hope to get a reauthorization this month. We hope they succeed. It would send a message that Congress is able to set aside ideology in favor of government programs with a proven track record of helping American business.
Countless other important issues are also on the table, including badly needed cyber-security legislation and a promise by President Obama to deliver a report this month to the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his plan to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.
Working against effective legislation is a short work calendar by Congress. The House has only 12 legislative days on its schedule in September, before the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, and the Senate has 15.
Some of that precious time, probably too much, will be spent debating the Iran nuclear pact, which has been the topic of countless hearings. Congress should by all means debate it, but not at the expense of other pressing business.