It's a reflection of how dysfunctional the federal government has become -- and how the Republican Party has been captured by a bunch of Tea Party anti-government anarchist hostage-takers -- that the least bad option may be to allow House Republicans to shut down the government for a few days or weeks.
Don't get me wrong. Shutting down all but the most essential activities of the Federal government for even a few days or weeks is a very bad thing. Government workers will lose income, veterans won't get health care services, travelers won't get passports, lots of other people won't get important government services, and a few tenths of a point will probably be shaved off the economic growth rate. Real people will suffer real harm.
But a brief shutdown of the government is nowhere near as catastrophic as failing to increase the federal debt ceiling and, for the first time in history, allowing the American government to default on its obligations. This would cause a global economic meltdown and likely start a new economic recession.
And it may be that the only way to prevent a debt ceiling default is to for the House Republicans to shut the government down and face the consequences. The stock market will tank with the Dow likely sinking hundreds of points a day. Public opinion will turn sharply against the Republicans. Pressure on the Republican establishment by financial elites will intensify. And in a short time -- I don't know whether it will be a few days or a few weeks -- the Republicans will be forced to back down; or at least Speaker Boehner will allow a clean government funding bill to come to the House floor and pass with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans.
But the Democrats shouldn't let Boehner off the hook too easily. Having come this far, they should now insist that a continuing resolution to fund the government be tied to a bill to increase the debt ceiling. There's no point in just funding the government if two weeks later there's another, far more serious, political hostage-taking crisis over raising the debt ceiling.
To save the U.S. and global economy, the very notion of defaulting on the debt ceiling must be taken off the political table. And, sad as it is, the only way that may happen is for there to be a short government shutdown.