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Let’s avoid a self-inflicted crisis

If Congress fails to pass a government funding bill by the end of this month, the American people will pay the price of a government shutdown. Just two weeks later, there’s an even greater danger – Congress might actually allow our country to default on its debts, inflicting enormous damage on the American people.

Everyone I have heard from in our district is confounded by this irresponsibility. No one can understand how we got to this point, again. They’re right to be frustrated.

Last week, instead of working on a real budget, Tea Party extremists in the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) in another attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s be clear on a couple of points here.

One – I don’t believe the Tea Party is representative of most Republicans, especially our friends in Connecticut. But it is unfortunately a very powerful minority in Washington.

Two – I’m a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, but I know it’s not perfect. Members of both parties in Congress can and should work together to improve it.

Regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, to repeal, defund, and dismantle a package of reforms that have been determined to be the law of the land and that are already making a positive difference for people across Connecticut and across the country is unreasonable, unrealistic and unacceptable.

Most importantly – it’s wrong to force a choice between defunding the law of the land or shutting down the entire government, jeopardizing the well-being of families and businesses.

The concern over these tactics is shared across the political spectrum. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said that a shutdown could “trigger disruptive consequences or raise new uncertainties washing over the U.S.”

Among those likely to be impacted by a government shutdown are many small businesses – as the Small Business Administration would stop processing applications for small business loans. A shutdown would be extremely costly, too. The government shutdowns of 1995 cost approximately $1.4 billion according to the Office of Management and Budget. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has pointed out, adjusted for inflation, that would be more than $2 billion today.

The consequences of our country defaulting on its debts would be even worse. Millions of veterans could be prevented from receiving their disability benefits. Families could face higher interest rates on everything from mortgages to credit cards – not to mention the damage that would be inflicted on employment, economic growth, and the global economy. Remember that in 2011, even the discussion of default sent the stock market plunging and led to a downgrading of the country’s credit rating.

And yet, in the midst of all this gridlock, there are models of bipartisan accomplishment in the U.S. House. I sit on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where members of both parties sat down, addressed concerns, worked across the aisle, and just last week we unanimously passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. This is a major bill that supports our nation’s vital water infrastructure needs.

Folks in Washington could learn something from this – coming to the table to address concerns and working together for commonsense legislation and that puts the American people first instead of giving in to the whims of the fringe minority bent on scoring political points.

Rather than lurching from one self-inflicted crisis after another, we should vote on the budget alternative that replaces sequestration with commonsense cuts and revenue increases, and that puts America on a sustainable path forward. The House should pass a clean increase of the debt ceiling, as past Congresses have done.

Folks in Connecticut deserve better than continued tired ideological debates in Washington. We need cooperation. We need compromise. We need action.

Elizabeth Esty is the U.S. Representative for the 41 cities and towns of Connecticut’s 5th District including Meriden, Cheshire, Waterbury and Danbury.

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