Grow up, Congress

With the government shutdown entering its third week and Thursday's deadline to raise the debt ceiling — and hold off potential default — now looming, negotiations appear to have entered a new phase of victim-hood. Apparently, it's not enough for the hostage-taking that started this mess to fail, Republicans fret that Democrats are now pressing their political advantage.

At least that's the impression from some in the GOP who went to the airwaves in recent days to warn Democrats not to "get greedy" or "humiliate" their party. One would think from such talk that these were kids on the middle school playground and one had the other in a hammerlock and was in a position to administer a rather bad wedgie in front of the other kids.

That Senate Republicans are especially unhappy with their current situation is not exactly surprising given how they were dragged into this by their tea party wing. Polls have shown that voters overwhelmingly blame the GOP for the shutdown and the risk of default, and while the public isn't pleased with President Barack Obama and the Democrats either, the approval rating for Republicans is at its lowest ebb.

Nor would it be a shock to find some in the Democratic Party enjoying their sudden good fortune (albeit offered to them through an act of Republican self-destruction and hardly their own doing) and looking toward 2014 and retaining control of the U.S. Senate. These are politicians, after all, and it is their nature to promote their selfish interests.

But what appears to have precipitated this talk is that the Democrats have dared to suggest that reconsidering portions of sequestration should be part of the deal. This is not because Republicans like sequestration's mandated cuts — they aren't fond of many of them either — but because conservatives want this problem to be fixed by cutting the budget in a more targeted fashion. Insiders say Democrats are pressing for a more balanced fix that would include revenues.

Well, how dare anyone suggest that something rational come out of a moment of sheer irrationality. If Republicans find it humiliating to imagine that they might have to abandon in some small way their "no new taxes" pledge for the sake of the national interest, perhaps they need to check their egos at the door. "Humiliation" would be for Democrats to force them to stay after school and write "I won't hold my government hostage" 50 times on the blackboard. An attempt to correct the worst side-effects of sequestration is not humiliation, it's responsible governance.

Of course, such an idea may not survive long. Negotiations may go in a different direction entirely — or they may stall. But what ought to guide the Congress and the White House is a strong sense of what's best for the country, not what's best for anyone politically, Democrat or Republican.

Here's what any agreement between the two sides ought to include: Reopening of government with a spending plan for at least six months (the so-called "clean" continuing resolution) and raising the debt ceiling for as long a time as feasible. It also ought to be under terms that demonstrate once and for all to the instigators that the strategy the GOP's tea party wing engaged in was not productive.

In other words, Sen. Ted Cruz and his ilk can't walk away with something they can point to as a victory. Not because that would be bad for Democrats but because it would cause the debt limit to be used as a bargaining chip again and again and again. That is unacceptable. Risking the nation's finances — and the world's economy — in such a fashion is not something that should be done every six weeks, six months or ever.

If doing one's job for the American people requires leaders to sometimes eat crow, then the only question ought to be whether to start with a leg or a wing, and with or without feathers attached. Humiliation? That is what the American people are experiencing this week as world leaders from Beijing to Riyadh condemn our manufactured fiscal crisis and the potential harm we are inflicting on international markets. It's time the elected leaders of the most powerful nation on the planet stopped acting like 12-year-olds.

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