Well, that was easy. The Senate on Wednesday approved an increase in the debt ceiling, which means the bill now goes to President Obama for his signature. No drama, no angst, no government shutdown.
Senators did the right thing, thanks to lessons learned from last year’s debacle. In that full-on display of legislative incompetence, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party firebrand, staged a one-man filibuster and egged on his Republican colleagues in the House who refused to fund the Affordable Care Act, triggering the closure.
This time he was at it again, urging Republican senators to join him in a filibuster against raising the debt ceiling — but he failed to win enough support. The Senate cleared the filibuster hurdle by a vote of 67-31 and then went on to pass the bill itself by a party-line vote of 55-43. All the “aye” votes came from Democrats.
It says a lot about the current state of the nation’s politics and the dysfunctional legislative process that approval of a measure that merely allows the government to pay its bills is considered newsworthy. Does this mean there is a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill?
Yet it does reflect public rejection of kamikaze tactics like those of Mr. Cruz and his allies on the right. Significantly, it also represents acknowledgment by Republican Party leaders that, like it or not, they have to take a stand against extremist tactics if they want the GOP to remain viable at the polls.
After both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Tx., voted against the filibuster tactic, several other Republicans switched their votes in solidarity, effectively rescuing the measure from defeat.
One day earlier, 28 Republicans in the GOP-dominated House joined Democrats to pass the debt-ceiling bill after Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made sure the measure did not include extraneous provisions. It was the first debt-ceiling increase in the House since 2009 that was not attached to other legislation.
Political brinksmanship is a drag on the economy. It raises doubts about the government’s ability to deliver basic services and adds a needless dose of uncertainty about where the country is headed. Investors lose faith, and markets panic. It’s possible these lessons are beginning to sink in on Capitol Hill.
On the same day that the Senate was voting, a new McClatchy-Marist poll found that 72 percent of respondents registered disapproval of the job Congressional Republicans are doing. Democrats didn’t do so well either, with 60 percent of those surveyed disapproving of the party’s legislative performance.
One clean vote is not likely to have much impact on the public’s dismay with Congress, but if lawmakers change tactics and abandon nonstop bickering and hyper-partisan wrangling, they would do themselves — and the nation — a world of good.
If legislators of both parties are really serious about dealing with public finances, they’ll find a way to fix what’s wrong with the long-term fiscal outlook. That means dealing with the rising cost of entitlements, cutbacks in spending and increases in revenue.
So far, there’s been a lot of rhetoric, but precious little action. For the moment, however, we’ll take what we can get. Congress hasn’t made much headway in fixing the financial picture, but at least it’s not undermining the economy with phony political dramas.