Congress begins an abbreviated session this week following the August recess, so let’s begin with the good news, since there’s so little of it from Capitol Hill these days: The threat of yet another government shutdown, mercifully, appears to be off the table for now.
Some Republicans had talked of a possible shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Most of that had to do with the president potentially going overboard on immigration and using his executive authority to halt deportations. Republicans would be so furious, some said, that they would retaliate by refusing to fund the government.
Speaker John Boehner shot down that idea, however, saying the House will take up a stop-gap funding bill in this month that keeps the federal government open until early December. No, members won’t approve an actual budget for the entire fiscal year, as responsible lawmakers used to do — that would be asking too much from this Congress — but at this point a public weary of congressional theatrics will probably settle for this piecemeal approach.
And, for good measure, the threat made earlier this summer by some fringe members to impeach the president is also not happening. “We have no plans to impeach the president,” Mr. Boehner conceded last month. It almost makes the speaker and the members of his caucus sound like the voice of reason.
Actually, the stop-gap funding measure for fiscal year 2015 is the only “must pass” piece of legislation facing Congress in the relatively few days they’ll be meeting before the pre-election recess (to be followed by the year-end holiday recess after a probable lame-duck session). But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing useful they can do if they overcome their customary gridlock.
The most important, for a region that thrives on international trade, is reauthorization of the agency that funds imports and exports. The loans and loan guarantees made by the Export-Import Bank to foreign customers of American exporters are vital to the national economy — especially to global gateways like Miami and South Florida.
Critics call it corporate welfare, but bank figures show that 90 percent of its transactions benefit small businesses. The agency backed $7 billion of export sales in Florida in fiscal 2013, including $1.5 billion in South Florida. And the bank earns money for taxpayers: Last year, it reduced the deficit by $1 billion from the fees and interest it received.
This should be a no-brainer. If Congress wants to tinker with the agency’s rules and guidelines, they can debate changes, but eliminating the bank altogether would amount to legislative malpractice — and a slap in the face to the people of South Florida.
Keeping the bank alive is one of the priorities, the most urgent, we believe, on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s agenda.
Among the others is an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, has said his caucus will push for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, among other projects. Supporters say it would boost the economy and enhance energy independence.
Neither the minimum wage nor the pipeline appears to have a chance, however. Once upon a time, they were the type of issues that Republicans and Democrats could negotiate and bring to fruition. But in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, merely agreeing to keep the government open seems, sadly, like a major victory.