So, it’s true: Anyone can learn. House Republicans – the real ones, not the RINOs of the tea party – have finally had enough of being bullied by the cranks on their fringe and allowed a vote, without preconditions, to raise the federal debt limit.
That’s a dramatic turnaround from every other such vote since President Obama was elected in 2008. In those votes, tea party Republicans held the country’s creditworthiness hostage as they attempted to further their single-minded agenda.
It was a dangerous and self-absorbed maneuver. After all, the subject wasn’t about future spending, over which political arguments are to be expected, but about paying bills the country had already incurred, with the assent of Congress.
Each time, the debt limit was ultimately raised, but only after the tea party held a gun to the country’s head and, in one memorable case, produced the foolish 2013 sequestration that did little to reduce spending but nonetheless caused widespread, if often invisible, pain.
The strategy appeared to meet its welcome demise with last year’s reckless decision by House Republicans – led, peculiarly enough, by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – to shut down the government when they didn’t get their way on the budget.
At that point, and with an election year looming, Speaker John Boehner finally called an end to the craziness. The government reopened and, earlier this year, the debt limit was increased temporarily. This week, he acted again when his caucus couldn’t agree what, if any, conditions, should be attached to the vote. A so-called “clean bill” – with no extraneous conditions – passed 221-201, though only 28 Republicans joined with Democrats to preserve the country’s good name.
The debt limit measure will allow the Treasury to borrow normally for another 13 months, well past the upcoming midterm elections.
The vote was not without its irony. Many of the Republicans who voted against raising the debt limit had only last month voted for a spending bill that required an increase in the debt limit. Among them, sad to say, was Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.
What is more, Boehner attempted to distract attention from the Republicans’ dysfunction by blaming Obama for refusing to negotiate over the debt limit. “Let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants,” Boehner pouted.
It was a classic diversion. There should be no negotiating over paying the country’s bills. The nation is responsible for meeting the obligations that Congress incurs.
Still, Boehner deserves credit for putting the country’s interests above the party’s. At some risk to himself, he dropped the “Hastert rule,” which demands that no matter be put up for a House vote without the support of a majority of Republicans. He is already being lambasted by the tea party for allowing this vote, but he can take a measure of pride in that. If he wants Republicans to do well in November’s midterm elections, the party has to shed its reputation for recklessness.
It remains to be seen whether Boehner will be buried by the political storm he created. That wouldn’t be surprising. Just because anyone can learn doesn’t mean everyone does.