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EDITORIAL: What now for the Republicans?

They must focus on the unfolding Obamacare debacle

- - Thursday, October 17, 2013

No supernatural powers of clairvoyance were needed to predict the outcome of the latest Washington drama. In approving a deal to reopen the federal bureaucracy and restore the administration's ability to borrow from our grandchildren's future, Congress and the president did on Wednesday what they always do: Put off difficult choices until a future date. Rinse, repeat.

The cycle of false drama and last-minute resolution (or lack of resolution) is why the nation is $17 trillion in debt. The question for Republicans now is, what are they going to do about it? When government funding expires once again on Jan. 15, Mr. Obama knows that all he has to do is keep his party in line, refuse to negotiate, and Republicans will surrender again. Surrender monkeys, indeed. Based on Wednesday's vote, House Republicans are split, 144 for doing something positive, and 87 for the status quo. A party divided that sharply can't beat a united opposition.

House Republicans must find some common ground on which they are all willing to fight together, or the cycle will never be broken. Those who want to limit the size of government have a lot of work ahead of them. They will go into next year's battle with budget sequestration intact. Democrats intended to use the shutdown to break through the spending caps that were the only good to come of the showdown in 2011. The sequestration's automatic budget restraint, insufficient it may be, is locked into the latest continuing resolution, though the Democrats will no doubt try again to undo it in the committee that Wednesday's deal tasks with working out the details. Fortunately, this committee is unlikely to be any more successful in accomplishing anything this time than the supercommittee was in November 2011, when it collapsed, unable to forge a deficit-reduction deal.

With the budget and debt fight off the table, Republicans can refocus public attention on the unfolding disaster that is Obamacare, particularly the job losses, lost insurance coverage, and soaring premiums and deductibles. The news is no longer dominated by the crocodile tears shed by federal employees who went one whole pay period without a paycheck. They always knew this was a temporary delay, and now they realize they'll get a pay raise to compensate for the unbearable "trauma" this unexpected paid vacation may have caused them.

The triumphal Mr. Obama — "What, me worry?"— can now turn his attention to pushing his self-proclaimed "No. 1 priority," immigration "reform." The good news is that Republicans, after being so roughly treated by the White House this week, aren't likely to be in a mood to cut another deal with the man. The president has burned too many bridges to expect them to come to him.