Nine months to an election in which the GOP has a reasonable chance of taking back control of the Senate, the Republican leadership in both houses of the legislative branch was keen to avoid the drama of market-rattling fiscal fights. They would like President Obama’s unpopular health-care law — one they have promised to try to repeal — to be the main topic of debate in the months to come.
When the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed on Tuesday a measure to extend U.S. borrowing authority so the government could pay its bills for 13 months without any spending conditions, it was widely assumed that passage in the Democrat-controlled Senate would just be a formality. Texas Senator Ted Cruz had other ideas.
Determined to do all he can to oppose raising the debt ceiling without fixing what he sees as the underlying problem of out-of-control spending, Cruz forced the Senate into a procedural vote that required a threshold of 60 votes to advance the measure. This, in turn, put Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party leader who faces a tea party challenger back home in Kentucky, into a very uncomfortable position.
Voting no would mean that his fellow Republicans would follow suit, causing havoc in the financial markets. Voting yes would give his primary challenger, Matt Bevin, ammunition to attack him.
After what seemed like an eternity, a grim-faced McConnell finally voted yes. An equally grim-faced Sen. John Cornyn, the party’s No. 2 leader and Cruz’s Texas colleague, changed his vote from no to yes.
Other Republicans followed suit, clearing the way for a vote on the actual bill — which, in turn, was passed along party lines, with the Republicans voting against.
McConnell and Cornyn acted in a responsible and sensible fashion, putting aside their personal political interests, and recognized that as long as another party controls the White House and the Senate, any real cutbacks on unnecessary expenditures have to be done in a bipartisan fashion.