Last week, after House Republicans had held the country hostage for 16 days in support of their Tea Party faction’s ideological crusade against “Obamacare,” reason and patriotism prevailed on Capitol Hill.
Presidential resolve, congressional Democratic leadership and bipartisan support from more moderate Republicans managed to avoid default on America’s full faith and credit and returned the federal government to functioning.
Although wounded, for the most part our nation’s economy and standing in the world remain intact. Essential services are now being restored for our children, seniors, veterans and business owners who have suffered needlessly for weeks.
I was deeply gratified by the opportunity to work with Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, as well as my Democratic House colleagues, in assuring that federal workers will be paid their salaries and receive a pay raise as well as their hard-earned benefits.
Our expansion of access to health care for all has been preserved – and President Obama would be fully justified in claiming victory.
In political terms, such a claim would be justified. Nearly three-quarters of all Americans disapproved of the Tea Party’s shutdown strategy, and the Republicans’ overall approval rating is the lowest in recent memory.
Yet, as our President has observed, there can be no claim of victory when so many of our countrymen and women have suffered and our nation has been so needlessly injured.
A steady and effective resolve to prevent those who have caused so much unnecessary pain from hurting us again must be our foremost priority.
Last week, we avoided default and reopened the federal government, but those achievements, however necessary, came with a cost.
We agreed to fund the government through Jan. 15, but only at the “sequester” funding levels that have been proven inadequate in economic terms. We achieved flexibility in our efforts to avoid default, but only through Feb. 7.
How well this partial victory benefits our country will depend, in large part, upon the negotiations of a bipartisan, House-Senate Budget Conference Committee that is to “provide a path to fiscal responsibility” by Dec. 13.
During the next two months, Republicans and Democrats must come together to compromise on a long-term budget that supports Americans’ highest priorities: jobs and economic growth.
By nature, we are an optimistic nation whose hopes for the future are supported by a historical record of challenges that our people and government have overcome. Yet, we must temper our optimism with a realistic assessment of the challenges that we face.
For all the news accounts of the Republicans’ “unconditional surrender” to the president’s unwavering determination, and for all the promise that the future may hold, there are hard facts that we must keep in mind.
For example, 144 House Republicans (62 percent of the majority party) voted against the budget and debt funding compromise, while only 87 members of the House Republican Caucus voted to reopen the government and avoid default.
Those are not numbers that promise a willingness to compromise.
The obstacle, of course, is the Tea Party.
Even for those who disagree with ObamaCare, the only view of reality that could justify defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States was a short-term political analysis dominated by gerrymandered Republican congressional districts, Tea Party ideologues and their billionaire funding machines.
It is important for everyone, Democrats and more mainstream Republicans alike, to fully understand this undemocratic alternative reality that the Tea Party is pushing.
Media images tend to suggest a broad, citizen-based movement. In fact, fewer than one-quarter of all Americans approve of the Tea Party’s philosophy and tactics.
Many of the Tea Party’s everyday followers are simply people who fear the future and want to return to a way of life that may or may not have ever existed for most people. Billionaire funders and cynical candidates are playing upon their fears in efforts to leverage their way to national dominance.
This local political leverage alarms mainstream Republicans who are fearful of losing their positions to more radical right wing candidates. This is how a minority of the House of Representatives - which, in turn, is only one of the three branches of our government – was able to partially shut down the federal government and risk default on America’s full faith and credit.
It is the true threat to democracy, to majority rule and to policies that benefit more than a privileged few.
The devastation that our nation just suffered revealed the ultimate sources and objectives of this undemocratic threat. Now, as President Obama has been urging us, those of us who place the good of the country first–Democrats and Republicans alike-must come together in reasonable, pragmatic compromise.
That is the shared, patriotic vision that saved our nation from default – the vision that can preserve all that we have worked so hard to achieve in the challenging days to come.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.