EDITORIAL: Driving in circles with GOP at wheel

The York Dispatch
  • One-party rule has not worked out the way Republicans probably had hoped.
  • This can’t be what voters had in mind when they elected solid GOP majorities.

Congress has two make-or-break items on its September calendar.

It has to raise the nation’s debt ceiling so it can pay for the things it has already bought, and then it needs to pass an appropriations bill to keep the government running after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Those tasks shouldn’t be difficult, considering failure could result in a first-ever default by the U.S. on its debts and a government shutdown, respectively.

But Congress has struggled in recent years with these basic orders of business.

In 2011, a debt ceiling standoff between House Republicans and President Barack Obama dragged on until the last minute. Although the borrowing limit was finally raised, the uncertainty prompted the first downgrade to the nation’s once-sterling credit rating.

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And in 2013, a small cadre of right-wing House members — our own Rep. Scott Perry among them — managed to hold the appropriations bill hostage while demanding Congress defund the Affordable Care Act.  

The health care law remained, but the doomed tactic led to a 16-day partial government shutdown that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans and cost the economy $24 billion.

Of course, back then the Republican-majority House had to deal with the Democrats in control of the White House and Senate.

Now, the GOP has a firm grip on all of the levers of government in Washington. Averting default and a government shutdown should be as easy for Republican as, say, repealing their hated "Obamacare" …

Republicans lawmakers applaud as President Donald Trump speaks to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Oh boy.

One-party rule has not worked out the way Republicans probably had hoped, as evidenced by the debacle that was their repeal and replace (or repeal and wait, or repeal and pray – it was never clear) effort earlier this summer.

Already there are reports of different factions in the Republican Party drawing battle lines over the debt ceiling — with the far right demanding concessions for raising the limit and others, President Donald Trump among them, demanding a “clean” bill that simply gets this basic job done.

Congress isn’t the only place where one-party rule is failing to show results.

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, where Republicans hold comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate, still has not produced a spending plan that will bridge the $2.2 billion gap in the 2017-18 fiscal budget approved two months ago.

A bipartisan bill to close the deficit by borrowing money and raising new taxes passed the Senate last month, but the House has not acted.

The state has used short-term loans in the meantime to pay its bills, including money for public schools, but Gov. Tom Wolf said in a letter this week to House Republicans that the state treasurer won’t allow more borrowing without a balanced budget.

Treasurer Joe Torsella said the loans will keep the state’s general fund from going into the red until Sept. 15, when it will “fall as much as $900 million in the negative.”

“Once the general fund gets to zero, we don’t have — I can’t constitutionally write checks because we don’t have the money to pay for them,” he told Pittsburgh-area radio state KDKA this week.

At that point, The Associated Press reports, Pennsylvania risks another downgrade to its battered credit rating, meaning it will cost taxpayers more when the state borrows, and Wolf might have to freeze funding for state programs or postpone payments to vendors.

The bottom line is Pennsylvania residents will suffer.

This is a mess, and it can’t be what Republican voters had in mind when they elected solid majorities in Congress and the state Legislature.

Can it?