Let’s unify around commonsense solutions to reopen the government and avoid default

Having shut down the government for more than two weeks, House Republicans, dominated by their extremist Tea Party faction, now seem determined to shut down the American economy by continuing their reckless strategy of proposing at the 11th hour irresponsible and unacceptable conditions for raising the debt ceiling and preserving America’s hard won and well-earned reputation as the most credit worthy nation in the history of the world.

The credit-worthiness of the United States is the engine pulling the train of the American economy. Inspired by their Tea Party element, House Republicans have hijacked the train and are hurtling it toward the cliff. They are willing to take it over the fiscal cliff and destroy the lives of everyone on board unless the president and the Senate agree to their ransom demand to throw Obamacare from the train.

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The behavior of House Republicans is worse than reckless and irresponsible; it is unpatriotic. No one who really loves America would risk the catastrophe that will befall Americans if the United States defaults on its debt. And to risk such a calamity just to prevent 22 million Americans from receiving affordable health care and the peace of mind it brings to them and their families is unconscionable.

House Republicans claim that they only want negotiations with the president and Senate. This is disingenuous. The Senate requested a conference with the House to resolve their budgetary difference six months ago and has renewed that request 19 times. Those repeated requests were repeatedly rejected by the House Republicans, who refused even to appoint conferees to negotiate with the Senate.

The Republican leadership of the House has proven time and again that it is incapable of governing in a responsible manner. Instead of passing legislation to create jobs and completing its work on the appropriations bills needed to fund the government, House Republicans have neglected their duties and wasted time on their futile obsession with defunding, delaying, and impeding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Every landmark social insurance program in our history has experienced growing pains and the Affordable Care Act is no exception. Seniors initially were reluctant to enroll in Medicare when it was rolled out in 1965. The same was true ten short years ago with respect to the prescription drug benefit of Medicare Part D.

The proper way to address any problems with the Affordable Care Act is to work together to fix them – to mend the law, not end the law. And it certainly makes no sense to shut down the government and take the economy over the cliff if the unreasonable demand of a minority to repeal the Affordable Care Act is not met.

Not for the first time Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have worked together and reached a compromise agreement to avoid default. Under the terms of this bipartisan agreement, funds will be provided to reopen and operate the federal government until January 15, 2014 and the debt ceiling would be raise to enable the Treasury to pay its bills through February 7, 2014.

Additionally, the agreement provides for the creation of a bicameral select budget committee that is required to meet and report its recommendations by December 13, 2013. Finally, the agreement reaffirms existing legislation strengthening the income verification requirements of the Affordable Care Act and delays the imposition of the reinsurance fee provision.

This is not a perfect agreement but no compromise ever is. Democratic members of Congress prefer a permanent reopening of the government, a much longer extension of the debt ceiling, and have little enthusiasm for another “super-committee” like the one that failed in 2011 and ushered in the disastrous period of sequestration. Senate Republicans have different preferences. But the important thing is that the parties took a responsible view of the matter and were able to bridge their differences to reach an agreement that reopens and funds the government and avoid an unprecedented an calamitous default on the national debt.

The responsible course for House Republicans to take is to follow the lead of their Senate counterparts and bring the proposal to the floor for a vote without delay. But instead of taking that action and bringing this crisis to an end, House Republicans, egged on by their Tea Party faction and its darling, Senator Ted Cruz, seem intent on sabotaging the carefully crafted Senate plan by attaching to it provisions which eliminate health insurance for lawmakers and government officials and delays for two years the imposition of the medical device tax that offsets the cost of the Affordable Care Act.

These poison pills have previously been considered and rejected by the Senate and the President and have no chance of becoming law. Their only purpose is to needlessly and recklessly bring our nation closer to the brink of default. And to compound the damage resulting from their reckless act, House Republicans also are seeking to add a provision that will prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from taking any “extraordinary measures” necessary to stave off default after the February 7, 2014 extension date. The only plausible inference to be drawn from the insistence on this provision is that its proponents wish to see the worse come to pass. The provision is akin to prohibiting a person whose house is on fire from borrowing her neighbor’s water hose to put it out.

 In 1789, Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first and greatest Treasury Secretary, understood that the path to American prosperity and greatness lay in its creditworthiness which provided the affordable access to capital needed to fund internal improvements and economic growth. The nation’s creditworthiness was one of its most important national assets and according to Hamilton, “the proper funding of the present debt, will render it a national blessing.” But to maintain this blessing, or to “render public credit immortal,” it is necessary that “the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.”

In other words, to retain and enjoy the prosperity that flows from good credit, it is necessary for a nation to pay its bills.

That is why the Republican leadership of the House should bring to the floor immediately for a vote the responsible and bipartisan agreement reached by Senate Democrats and Republicans to reopen the government and raise the debt limit.

Nothing else would do more to send the message to the American people that their elected representatives in Congress care more about addressing issues of importance to them than advancing the narrow partisan agenda of Tea Party extremists whose supporters disrespect the nation’s Commander in Chief and proudly display Confederate flags in front of the White House.

Jackson Lee has represented Texas' 18th Congressional District since 1995. She sits on the Judiciary and the Homeland Security committees and is ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.