Did Congress -- particularly Republicans, who are rightly shouldering the brunt of the blame -- learn anything from the shutdown/debt ceiling debacle?

Unfortunately, we're going to find out fairly quickly.

The last-minute "deal" to reopen the federal government and avert a catastrophic default on our nation's debt merely set the stage for new battles in just a few months. The bill signed early Thursday funds the government through Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling until Feb. 7.

Déjà vu, anyone?

After this brief intermission, the actors will again take their marks, and we'll see if this play is a Greek tragedy or a heroic drama.

We hope the self-inflicted damage and utter disgust of their fellow citizens have brought members of Congress to their senses. What they've been doing for years now is not governing; it's lunacy.

Much of the craziness stems from the far-right tea party wing of the House Republican caucus, as evidenced by its futile attempt to cut funding for the Affordable Care Act. While "Obamacare" limped to a rocky start, few noticed because the tea party strategy shut down the government on the same day.

This group is a minority, however, so the House Republican "leadership" also deserves credit for the train wreck, having let the fringe chart the course.


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Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, is a member of this group and signed a letter urging House Speaker John Boehner not to allow any appropriation bill to pass unless it also defunded the Affordable Care Act.

When that effort ran its inevitable course, Perry was among the House Republicans who voted "no" this week on the bill to reopen the government and avoid a default.

It's about spending, he said. We already have massive debt, are running a huge deficit and programs like Medicare and Social Security are on unsustainable paths.

We have to deal with those problems, Perry and other Republicans said.

Agreed.

So go ahead and do that -- but not by threatening to plunge the country into chaos.

That's extortion, not governing, and the American people are sick of it.

It's no wonder the Republican party's approval rating hit an all-time low during this mess.

This is not to let the Democrats off the hook.

We do need to address our country's fiscal problems, and the Dems control the Senate. It will take cooperation and compromise to accomplish these tasks.

Hope lies in the new, bipartisan budget commission established by Thursday's bill and tasked with reconciling House and Senate spending plans.

It has until December to reach an agreement, and, sure, it could fail as miserably as the "supercommittee" in 2011.

But things are different now, in case lawmakers haven't noticed the tidal shift in America's mood (no, we're not talking about the small minority that cheered this latest disaster).

If members of Congress haven't gotten that message by the time the next spending bill and debt ceiling deadlines arrive early next year, they're very likely to hear it loud and clear in the mid-term elections a few months later.