Over the last two weeks, we have witnessed veterans being told they have to wait to hear back about their applications for benefits. Come Nov. 1, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be able to process pension checks for more than five million vets and widows of veterans. And, of course we all have heard of the shameful cutoff of death benefits to families of troops recently killed in combat in Afghanistan. All of this happening while partisan rhetoric—on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue—continues.
While this “partial” government shutdown has caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers, private contractors, and state and local governments that depend on Uncle Sam, something far worse is just days away. Thursday, Oct. 17, is the deadline by which Congress must raise the government’s borrowing limit. In other words, the U.S. credit card is about to max out and unless Congress authorizes raising the limit—also called the debt ceiling—America will not have enough cash on hand to pay all of its outstanding bills. This is perhaps the biggest threat to the U.S. economy and the global economy. If America should default on its obligations, it would also wreck our standing worldwide. The Dow has already taken hits in a jittery recovery, and a debt crisis would move the U.S., fiscally, from its regular hospital room to the ICU.
Over the weekend, talks between the White House and the GOP-led House collapsed. So now Senate leaders are taking up the charge to find a way out of this mess. Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) said the fact that he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP, Trump administration huddles on tax reform Overnight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Senate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general MORE (R-Ky.) were talking should bring “comfort” to us. Moderate Maine Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOvernight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Schumer: Senate Russia probe moving too slowly Collins: I'm not working with Freedom Caucus chairman on healthcare MORE said on CNN’s‘ State of the Union’ Sunday that they had “sparked a dialogue.” What we really need is less talk and more action.
While Republicans and Democrats continue to wage this high-stakes game of chicken, it’s imperative that both parties recognize this ongoing brinksmanship has political consequences. Congressional midterm elections are a year away, and what happens over the current budget battles will likely play a role in determining the outcome. Even reliably safe GOP congressional districts, thanks to gerrymandering, could be in jeopardy in 2014.
Just look at the numbers. Based on polling, the GOP is getting blasted because of the shutdown. Polls released by CBS, FOX, NBC and the Wall Street Journal show the ongoing government shutdown and debt-limit standoff has badly damaged the Republican Party and that a majority of Americans blame the GOP. How bad? The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 53 percent blame congressional Republicans while only 31 percent blame President Obama.
Moreover, the rift within the GOP is reaching fevered pitch as moderate Senate Republicans such as John McCainJohn McCainGraham: There are 'no good choices left' with North Korea Graham: North Korea shouldn't underestimate Trump Give Trump the silent treatment MORE (Ariz.) and Collins have openly revolted against tea party conservatives like Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzKansas Republican sworn in after special election Overnight Finance: Dems want ObamaCare subsidies for extra military spending | Trade battle: Woe, Canada? | Congress nears deal to help miners | WH preps to release tax plan Cruz: Seize money from drug lords to fund border wall MORE (Texas) and Mike LeeMike LeeTrump takes aim at Obama monuments Trump should work with Congress to block regulations on prepaid cards Sweeping change at DOJ under Sessions MORE (Utah). While the GOP "Civil War" is underway, Democrats are not out of the woods. They must defend 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs next year.
If the shutdown continues—which from my perch it appears this could go on through Thanksgiving—Democrats and Republicans may well find that voters will pay them back at the polls next year. They won’t be furloughing members of Congress, they’ll be firing them.
Ham is author of the bestselling book, The GOP Civil War: Inside the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party.