By now, it should be painfully obvious that the tactic of threatening a government shutdown doesn’t work. Again last week, House Speaker Mike Johnson was forced to rely on a coalition of almost every Democrat and about half of his own Republicans to pass a temporary spending bill that keeps things going.

Without the votes, conservatives cannot have their way.

However, all the latest spending agreement does is move the deadlines further down the road. Now, these deadlines will be March 8 and March 22. Various of the 12 bills Congress needs in order to set spending limits for government agencies in fiscal 2024 will be due on each date. Expect more deadlines in the future.

Ostensibly, passing 12 bills shouldn’t be hard, but the current fight ignores a looming crisis. Numerous indicators point toward fiscal and economic catastrophe in a few years. No one is addressing this in any meaningful way. The left is uninterested in the reforms that would be necessary and the right continues ineffective tactics that would tie spending to conservative messaging bills.

It’s as if both sides were arguing over the dinner menu on the Titanic as water begins to seep in.

We hope lawmakers in both parties get serious soon, and we hope they do so before it’s too late.

Here’s how Utah representatives voted on the stopgap bill to avert shutdown
President Biden meets congressional leaders ahead of government shutdown deadline

Meanwhile, the Republican party simply does not have the votes to force bills on border security, abortion related issues or curbing President Joe Biden’s global warming policies, as some are demanding from Johnson. Without the votes, these demands have become little more than sound and fury, as members of the Freedom Caucus use procedures to block business on the House floor and stall votes on other matters.

With the recent expulsion of New York Republican George Santos, and the election of Democrat Tom Suozzi to take his place, Republicans now have a narrow 219-213 majority, meaning Johnson can lose no more than three votes on any issue.

That gives leverage to any cause that can muster three or more votes, and it keeps the House focused on the wrong things.

It’s time for both sides to confront the serious issues that loom. Annual budget deficits and runaway entitlement programs are fueling a national debt that has reached about $34.5 trillion.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model recently calculated that the nation has about 20 years, and probably less, before the debt grows so large that investors lose confidence in the nation’s ability to make payments.

A brief accompanying the report said that when this happens, “no amount of future tax increases or spending cuts could avoid the government defaulting on its debt whether explicitly or implicitly.”

Earlier this week, in an analysis of the most recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, the Tax Foundation, a Washington research group, said Medicare and Social Security are the main drivers of the burgeoning deficit.

The choices Congress faces are not complicated. They can either raise revenue or cut these or other large programs. Or they can do a combination of both.

Proposals have included ending the rule that exempts any income over $160,200 from Social Security taxes, reducing benefits to people who earn over a certain amount or raising the official retirement age for today’s younger workers. Also, the tax that supports Social Security could be raised.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has proposed the Trust Act, which would establish committees charged with reforming failing trust fund programs. Sen. Mike Lee has focused on reducing spending and establishing long-term reforms.

But no serious idea can proceed until more members of Congress elevate real problem-solving over partisan rhetoric.

Border bills, abortion and global warming policies are certainly not trivial matters, but each deserves separate attention, debate and consideration in separate bills. Likewise, the nation’s looming fiscal crisis deserves attention on its own.

The spending deal, which easily passed the Senate and was signed by the president, doesn’t constitute even a nibble at the nation’s larger fiscal problems. Election year tactics aside, Congress should pass a budget, then commence the real work of saving the economy.