Political strategyRepublicans avoid showdown over bill
Published: 2/14/14 @ 12:00
Republicans’ new acquiescence to letting the government pile up more debt with no strings attached paid double political dividends: It spared the GOP another politically debilitating showdown with President Barack Obama and also forced Democrats to cast votes that rivals immediately used against them in this year’s midterm elections.
The GOP’s top priority is maintaining its House majority and seizing control of the Senate, and the political strategy is to keep it simple — talk incessantly about Obama’s unpopular health care law and avoid cataclysmic fights such as the one that led to last fall’s 16-day partial government shutdown.
That largely rules out the contentious issue of overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.
Both House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., convinced many in their GOP caucus to accept legislation lifting the nation’s borrowing authority with no concessions from the Obama administration. Gone were demands for the Keystone XL pipeline, repeal of the health care law and even a popular plan to reverse the pension cut for working-age military retirees.
Republicans wanted to avoid the drama of a possible default and the political fallout from last year’s government shutdown. Facing a Feb. 27 deadline from the Treasury, they acted swiftly, realizing that there was no negotiating with the White House or Democrats on the issue. Boehner, who has often struggled with his fractious caucus, including a strong lineup of tea partyers, got grudging respect from conservatives.
The House passed the debt-limit bill with 193 Democratic votes and 28 Republican votes on Tuesday. Boehner and several other members of the leadership, along with a handful of retiring congressmen, provided the GOP votes.
“I think the speaker did the only thing that he could do,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “If you have certain votes that are going to be cast one way, and that’s the only way they’re going to go and there’s no negotiation, then your hands become tied, depending on how many votes that is.”
In the Senate this week, tea-party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz demanded a 60-vote threshold to move ahead on the debt-limit bill, forcing Republican leaders such as McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn to reluctantly deliver the votes. The maneuvering opened McConnell to criticism from the tea party and his Republican primary challenger, Matt Bevin.
“Outside of Washington, just about every American understands we can’t keep going on the path we’re on,” said Cruz, who along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, precipitated last fall’s shutdown over demands for Obama to gut his health care law. “We’re bankrupting the country. And it’s irresponsible to our kids, and it’s irresponsible to our grandkids.”
Other Senate Republicans saw no positive outcome to Cruz’s strategy.
“At the end of the day you still have to deal with the fact that you can’t let the country default,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “What’s the other strategy? Default? See how the world reacts to that — see what the stock market does.”