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Soapbox: Our economy is not a bargaining chip

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici represents Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, which includes all of Washington County.

The American economy should never be used as a bargaining chip, but that’s exactly what is happening now in Washington, D.C. The refusal by some in the House of Representatives to fund the government or pay the nation’s bills threatens to send our country into a new recession that some economists say could be worse than what we went through after the 2008 financial collapse.

The government shutdown is already causing damage. Veterans’ benefits have been held up, national parks and museums are closed, federal research has been halted and small business loan applications are not being processed. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees, including nearly 30,000 in Oregon, have been furloughed, and millions more continue to do their jobs without knowing when they’ll receive a paycheck. Private businesses are being affected because they need the federal government to approve licenses.

Worse yet is what will happen if we are unable to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17. To be clear, this is not additional debt — it’s the authorization needed to pay existing bills. If we default, our credit rating would be downgraded, and the interest rate on our debt would skyrocket. Domestic and global financial markets could freefall if the full faith and credit of the United States was suddenly rendered meaningless. This would result in an extremely discouraging fiscal outlook just as we are seeing signs of recovery.

The good news is that we can put an end to this unnecessary crisis immediately. A majority of the House, a majority of the Senate and President Obama support compromise legislation that would reopen the government and prevent a catastrophic default. This legislation funds the government at levels below what is needed. It includes the across-the-board sequestration cuts — which I do not support — but I am willing to vote for this bill to end the government shutdown. Unfortunately, Speaker Boehner has refused to allow a vote unless we agree to also repeal or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The majority of Americans are opposed to letting the debate about health care become an excuse for Congress to not fulfill its most basic obligation to fund the government and pay the nation’s bills. We may disagree about some provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but in general, most people support its consumer protections — such as the right to be covered even with a preexisting condition.

In fact, because of the Affordable Care Act, tens of thousands of Oregonians will be able to access health insurance for the first time. Small businesses are already getting tax credits to help provide coverage to their employees. Senior citizens are getting access to free preventive care and reduced prescription drug prices. Young people up to age 26 can access health care through their parents’ insurance plans. Repeal of the law would harm all of those who are benefitting from these provisions.

No legislation is perfect, but what we don’t need is any more misinformation, or panic-driven arguments aimed at outright repeal.

The Affordable Care Act is a law. It was passed by the House, passed by the Senate, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. If opponents want to try to repeal it, they are free to introduce legislation and have that move through the legislative process. More appropriately, we should have a thoughtful, bipartisan conversation about changes that may be needed to ensure that every American has access to affordable, high-quality care. But first, we need to end the government shutdown and provide certainty for our economy.

We can respectfully disagree and rationally negotiate, but no member of Congress should use a willingness to do harm to the American people as leverage in a political debate. We need cooler heads to prevail. We need to set aside the talking points and threats and get back to doing the country’s business.

Get on your soapbox

The Times offers a soapbox to stand on every week in our Opinion section. The soapbox is a guest column written by any reader on any local issue of public interest. They should be no longer than 800 words (about three double-spaced typewritten pages) and should include the signature, address and phone number of the writer. Soapboxes are due Mondays at noon and can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




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