A reckless Republican bid to undercut the Affordable Care Act failed miserably, producing only damage to the economy and the GOP brand. The best that can be said is these misguided political warriors didn't cause a bigger disaster — turning the U.S. government into a deadbeat borrower.
But the legislation that removed the barricades from Washington's memorials and reopened federal offices on Thursday is good only until Jan. 15. That's just 90 days away.
Another deadline — this one for extending government's borrowing authority — follows 23 days later, on Feb. 7.
In the meantime, we're left to wonder whether the uncompromising Republicans who took America to the brink of default before capitulating learned anything. Some Republicans are asking the same thing.
"This package is a joke compared to what we could have gotten if we had a more reasonable approach," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Washington Post. "But live and learn; we'll be doing this in a couple months."
President Barack Obama deserves credit for standing up to the scorched-earth tactics employed by tea party-affiliated Republicans. Had he done the same thing two years ago, during the last battle over the debt ceiling, this spectacle might have been avoided altogether.
That said, important fiscal issues remain unresolved and require cooperation on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
The debt and deficit are shrinking rapidly from post-recession peaks, but, if entitlement costs aren't brought under control, red ink will begin mounting again in the second half of this decade.
Wise minds in both parties understand that the across-the-board sequester cuts — a product of the 2011 standoff — are bad public policy and a drag on the economy. Spending cuts aren't a bad thing in themselves, but agencies need flexibility to manage them.
Finally, the federal tax code is a tangled mess, distorting decisions best left to the marketplace and undermining public trust in government.
The interval between now and Jan. 15 isn't sufficient to resolve all these issues. Still, we'd like to think public disgust with the shutdown and with the intransigence of hard-core conservatives are incentives for progress. But the vote to reopen the government again spotlighted divisions within the GOP that will complicate any negotiation.
In the Senate, Cruz unrepentantly declared, "This battle will continue." In the House, most Republicans voted no. They were willing to let the government default if they didn't get their way.
With well-funded conservative organizations threatening to bankroll primary challenges to Republicans who don't toe the hard line, their political survival may depend on continued opposition to Obama and even their own leadership.
Under the agreement that reopened the government, Republican leaders in Congress will end months of delay and appoint negotiators to reconcile the House and Senate budgets for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. A conference report is due in mid-December.
We may not know until then whether this week's agreement was a step toward a budget deal, maybe even the elusive grand bargain, or just a brief cease-fire in a Quixotic political war against health care reform.