BY A VOTE of 221-201, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass a clean debt ceiling bill, a measure approved with no encumbrances, no conditions, no partisan jiu-jitsu to avoid paying the bills the United States has already rung up. Twenty-eight Republicans joined 193 Democrats in voting yes.
From here, the measure, which increases the current debt ceiling of $17 trillion before a looming default at month’s end, moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where passage is expected. “We'll let the Democrats put the votes up. We'll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed," said House Speaker John Boehner, pragmatic in defeat, and maybe liberated as well. “We'll let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants.”
In the short term, it’s evidence of compromise from a Congress not known for being compromise-friendly. And it restores, for a hot minute, the possibility that bipartisanship is possible. But for Pantone Warm Red C conservatives, the bill’s advance represents a bitter surrender to President Obama, and it puts Boehner in the crosshairs of those howling for a deeper fiscal tilt to the right — and a change of leadership in the House.
◊ ◊ ◊
Ben Jacobs of The Daily Beast breaks it down:
“President Obama had long signalled his opposition to signing a debt limit increase with any conditions attached while House Republicans have long sought to use the once relatively routine procedural vote as political leverage.
“Early Tuesday morning though, Boehner realized only a clean bill would pass as there was no way that the Speaker could get 218 votes out of the GOP caucus to support any increase and he had no carrots to dangle that could lure over conservative Democrats to support a debt limit with a rider attached.
“Many members of House leadership and committee chairs broke with Boehner in opposing the bill, including James Lankford, the no. 4 Republican in the House and former GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee. The 27 Republicans who joined Boehner in supporting the bill ended up comprising a ragtag crew of moderates, the retiring and loyalist committee chairs.”
◊ ◊ ◊
MICHAEL TOMASKY, also of The Beast, wrote earlier in the day, sensing the Republican caucus would cave, and put a wider, more historical spin on things, saying “this whole, sorry hostage-taking episode in American politics is presumably over. It's a major admission of failure by Boehner and [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor, and of course yet another sign that they have very little control over their caucus.”
“I’m glad that Republican leaders finally bowed to reality and put families and the economy before the Tea Party," Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement. "The era of economic hostage-taking, ransom demands, and manufactured crises should finally be behind us, and we now have an opportunity to refocus on the real challenges workers and families face every day.”
But a note of caution might be advised, before declaring that these proceedings are closed. Yes, it’s a welcome breath of fresh legislative sanity coming from Capitol Hill. But the naysayers are just now starting to push back.
◊ ◊ ◊
Daniel Horowitz sounded the alarm that’ll no doubt set the tone for conservative reactions to come:
“If you really oppose raising the debt ceiling and appreciate the long-term damage from Boehner’s policy, why not call for a new leadership election immediately? There is no middle ground. If you really opposed this deal, it is simply egregious that the sitting Republican leader would pass it with Democrat support. This is the seventh time Boehner has done so over the past year. It only takes about 50 members to call for a leadership election. Now is the time to put up or shut up.”
Heritage Action for America called the vote “irresponsible.” Club for Growth called it “a joke.” And predictably, on talk radio, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. Right-wing Rottweiler Mark Levin went nuts: “The Speaker must be replaced with a true conservative who Obama will fear, who can speak to the American people ...”
Whether this single vote represents a wholesale shift in Republican tactics remains to be seen. For a GOP-led House addicted to brinkmanship and placating a Tea Party wing eager to make quid pro quo the animating principle of its legislative philosophy, Tuesday’s vote may just be a lull in the partisanship we’ve gotten accustomed to.
The Obama White House is still pressing for progress on raising the minimum wage, and for restoring the unemployment benefits that at least 1.7 million Americans were counting on, ‘til they were cut off by Congress on Dec. 28. The House may well be girding its loins for those fights to come.
◊ ◊ ◊
BUT TEAM Obama has the advantage of having been here before. In December 2011, the president signed a two-month extension of the 2 percent payroll tax cut, and extended unemployment benefits and authorized maintaining the current reimbursement Medicare rate — this after House Republicans folded joining congressional Democrats and the Senate in approving the measure in a voice vote.
In January 2013, speaking in refreshingly pragmatic terms, Republican presumptive theoretician-in-chief Newt Gingrich had little use for holding the debt ceiling hostage. “They’ve got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy. Everybody’s now talking about, ‘Oh, here comes the debt ceiling,’” Gingrich said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think that’s, frankly, a dead loser. Because in the end, you know it’s gonna happen. The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television, and say: ‘Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.’ And they’ll cave.”
“He can’t keep thinking the way he’s thought the last few months without having a disaster on his hands,” Gingrich said. The House voted to approve a debt-ceiling deal on Jan. 23, little more than a year ago.
◊ ◊ ◊
It was to be expected. Conflict cultivation — making Democrats feel transactionally “uncomfortable” as an end in itself, regardless of the wider consequences — has been a Republican operational principle on Capitol Hill for some time now, and the blood lust of the Tea Party partisans didn’t vanish overnight.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, darling of the Tea Party, has vowed to filibuster the bill in the Senate. “Under no circumstances will I agree to the Senate’s raising the debt ceiling with just 50 votes. I intend to object and force a 60-vote threshold,” Cruz told reporters after Tuesday’s vote, as reported by Politico. Cruz faces the prospect of a situation out of his control.
◊ ◊ ◊
BUT REALLY, it’s another weather event that’s likely to move the ball down the field. It’s a change in the political weather: a national weariness with 11th-hour political antics, and a growing impatience among mainstream Republicans with the idea of reliably taking not just the American economy (the one that sustains and enriches them) but also the global economy to the brink every year.
David Cote, the chairman and CEO of Honeywell, and a Republican, said much the same thing in a New York Times interview published in January of last year:
“You don’t put the full faith and credit of the United States’ finances at risk,” he said. “The whole idea of using debt ceiling that way or saying ‘I’ll do this horrible thing to all of us unless you give in’ just doesn’t make any sense for anybody. It makes me very nervous. It’s not a smart way to run the country.”
Image credits: Boehner: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press. The Daily Beast logo: © 2014 The Daily Beast. RedState logo: © 2014 Town Hall Media. Cruz: Senate TV.