When Weather is the Mother of Invention
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Needing to get out of town before they would be trapped in Washington by the latest storm, the Senate voted 67-31 to avoid an extended showdown or filibuster that Senator Ted Cruz had wanted. This permitted the Senate to proceed with a direct vote on the clean, debt ceiling extension bill already approved by the Republican controlled House. Knowing that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had predicted that the U.S. Government would run out of funds to meet its debt obligations before the end of February and given next week’s congressional recess, the fear of being trapped in their offices when the snow hit, curtailed action against the bill. It actually brought Republican Minority Leaders McConnell and Cornyn– together with approximately a dozen other Republicans–to move the bill to the floor even faster than expected. Passage of the bill by a 55-43 margin sent the bill to the White House, thus avoiding even a ripple of suggestion about another government shut-down, with all it political ramifications.
What is important about this on the debt ceiling extension bill was what had occurred earlier this week in the House. After much fanfare, posturing, and repeated meetings of the Republican caucus, Speaker Boehner presented a clean bill to the entire House to extend the debt ceiling for one year with no add-ons or conditions; as had been demanded by his right-wing.
Congress is now away, but perhaps McConnell and Cronyn’s votes and Speaker Boehner’s success in the Republican caucus, might signify the beginning of some comity returning to Capitol Hill. No one will admit it on the Republican side but McConnell and Cornyn’s votes were clear liabilities for them both, in their primary attacks from Tea Party challengers in Kentucky and Texas. As for Boehner, he has now twice, in December before the Christmas adjournment and now, begun to show signs that he will try to lead the House back into a more functional, collegial operation,
While there remain numerous signs to the contrary on Capitol Hill, congressional Republican leadership may have realized that if they wish to have a serious shot at regaining the Senate this year and the White House in 2016, they must move away from their ideological right-wing flank. Ron Paul and Ted Cruz are hardly going to roll over. The recent evidence that Obamacare might hold traction and succeed also must be scaring some GOP members that their planned chief attack issue against the Dems—the Affordable Health Care Act—may be disappearing as well. After Congress returns until July 4th will be the biggest window for legislative activity in this session. It will be interesting to note if there is any genuine legislative movement.