Raising the nation’s debt ceiling should be routine. This allows the federal government to pay its bills — obligations substantially imposed by Congress.
But this has become not so routine. Last week, the House majority’s leadership needed the House minority to muster enough votes to accomplish even this boilerplate legislation. And on Wednesday, Republican leaders, because of recalcitrance in the GOP rank and file, had to provide the votes to allow a floor vote on the legislation, which then passed 55-43.
That so much effort was required to accomplish what should be so routine says much about the dysfunctional state of Congress these days. But in this drama, some sanity emerged. Our hope is that it lasts.
House Speaker John Boehner prevented another useless display of brinkmanship by outwardly defying his own caucus, which secretly wanted to avoid another crisis but didn’t want to take the heat for raising the debt ceiling.
And the same dynamic existed in the Senate, where Texas’ own John Cornyn joined Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to get past the 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle to get the bill to the floor.
Then there’s Texas’ other senator, Ted Cruz. He forced the need to get those 60 votes. Yes, the junior senator yearned for yet another showdown after helping engineer the last shutdown in October. The country was not amused.
In the House, only 28 Republicans voted for the measure, joining 221 Democrats. Conservative groups are now calling for the speaker’s ouster.
And both McConnell and Cornyn had to know they were helping primary election foes. Cornyn’s challengers have laughably been trying to paint one of the most conservative senators in the country as a liberal.
The GOP caucuses likely won’t admit it, but Boehner, McConnell and Cornyn all took one for their team. And helped the nation.
But here’s the biggest takeaway. Important legislation got approved in the House because the speaker allowed a floor vote. And it got approved in the Senate because a few Republicans finagled the bill onto the floor for a vote.
This has been rare. Legislation has been blocked, in the House because of the so-called Hastert rule, which dictates that no legislation moves if the majority of the GOP caucus disapproves. And procedural maneuvers by the minority party in the Senate have blocked legislation there.
So, how many meaningful measures might now be law with the kind of straight-up votes that occurred here? Imagine: members of Congress running in this midterm election on accomplishment rather than obstruction.