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Editorial: Shutdown highlights deeper political problems

Even though last year’s monumental Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was, by many accounts, the final word on Obamacare, the House of Representatives is changing the calculus by forcing debate again via the federal budget process.

The Republicans in the House are well within their rights (some would say they are fulfilling their duties) to fund, or defund, any federal programs, including health care, that they see fit. In turn, the Senate is within its rights to reject those bills and, should one ever get to the president’s desk, he would have veto power.

Here’s the problem that the current situation and the federal shutdown it has generated has brought to light, and it isn’t earth-shattering news: The political system, which can’t find a way to compromise, is severely broken.

This mess is the result of a series of political missteps that go back decades. Among them are the defeat of health care reform in the early 1990s, massive overly partisan congressional redistricting over the past 20 years, a circuitous route to achieve Affordable Care Act passage and bitter, vitriolic public campaigns on both sides of the issue.

There’s supposed to be a natural ebb and flow to politics — a give and take between each side where both get the sense that they’ve gained and lost something through the negotiation process. That seems to have been lost, and what remains feels more like two spouses who are going through a divorce: Not only are they not listening to one another’s arguments, but they also have downright contempt for each other.

The Affordable Care Act is the signature legislation for President Obama and, in many ways, the Democratic Party as a whole. He isn’t going to abandon it, in spite of mounting concerns about how its implementation will negatively affect multiple sectors of the economy. This is where the art of negotiation, sadly, has been abandoned.

If Obama is tethered to the ACA, why not negotiate on some of the smaller points of it — the elimination of carve-out exceptions, for example, while retaining the popular elements, like the pre-existing condition clause?

Pundits have been calling the shutdown (which could cost Maryland as much as $5 million per day in income and sales tax revenue, according to a governor’s office memo) a loss for both Democrats and Republicans.

They’re only partially right. The real losers here, and not just in this shutdown in particular, but in the broad collapse of a functional political process in Washington, are the people Congress is supposed to be serving.