In an era in which business acumen is so highly prized in political candidates, it’s frustrating that the nation’s elected management team — the U.S. Congress — once again has the nation on the edge of a government shutdown. Friday’s surprise announcement that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner will resign his position and his seat next month is a sobering consequence of political leaders continually putting ideology above the business of governing.
The Ohio Republican will be remembered more for his steady, though increasingly exasperated, leadership than landmark legislation. He merits the nation’s thanks for keeping a mature hand on his congressional majority when a small group within it was willing to weaponize the debt ceiling or shut down the federal government to achieve aims lacking broader support.
Boehner managed as best as could be expected the minority within his own party who were willing to use extreme measures to try to govern as a majority. Replacing Boehner, which some Republican House members have angled for, will not magically allow these critics to impose their agenda. Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but fall short when it comes to the number needed to override a presidential veto. Compromise with Democrats and President Obama is still needed and good for the country.
Yet another politically manufactured crisis is regrettably at hand. An end-of-the-month deadline looms for passing legislation that authorizes fiscal 2016 spending. If it gets mired in the stalemate over funding for Planned Parenthood, closed signs will go up on national parks, federal agencies and other operations as of midnight Sept. 30.
As Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute put it this week, no business would operate this way. There are always strategic differences among executive teams. But threatening a company shutdown, which would erode customer confidence and impede strategic planning, isn’t in any corporate leadership playbook. It shouldn’t be used as leverage by Congress. Unfortunately, some congressional Republicans, many of whom are Boehner critics, are conditioning their support for government spending legislation on defunding Planned Parenthood.
It was reassuring to hear late this week that Minnesota’s congressional delegation is not among this reckless group. In a Thursday Star Tribune story, the state’s three Republican House members — Reps. John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer — made their concerns about Planned Parenthood clear but also responsibly rejected risking a government shutdown to force defunding.
The U.S. Senate also appears to be serious about governing, taking steps this week to set up passage of a so-called “clean” continuing resolution that would avoid a shutdown while broader spending agreements are hammered out later this year. The challenge remains in moving this legislation forward in the House without targeting Planned Parenthood, though support for moving a clean bill was coalescing there late this week.
Planned Parenthood is in the cross hairs because of undercover videos released by a controversial anti-abortion group. Multiple state-level investigations have failed to find any illegal activity by Planned Parenthood. Those pushing to defund the group also miss a critical point: They wouldn’t just defund Planned Parenthood, they would also defund health care for millions of women. Community health centers, mentioned as an alternative, do not have the capacity to absorb these patients if Planned Parenthood is abruptly shut down.
Keeping the government running is one of elected officials’ most fundamental responsibilities. It’s critical that whoever replaces Boehner understand that abandoning this duty is not an option.