Shocking Moment of Sanity Occurs in Congress

If you aren't a political junkie, you may have missed the rather remarkable thing that occurred yesterday in Congress, when the House of Representatives—home of nutbars and nincompoops, extremists, and obstructors—actually passed an increase in the debt ceiling. And it was clean as a whistle, without any spending cuts or other provisions inserted to soothe the savage Tea Party beast. After debt ceiling crises in 2011 and 2013, we now have over a year before we have to tempt fate and default again. How could such a thing have happened?

The simplest explanation is that John Boehner put a clean increase up for a vote, and it passed, with mostly Democratic votes (even Boehner himself voted against it, as did the entire Republican leadership). This is something he could have done in the prior crises, but chose not to. The more complete explanation is that Boehner finally felt secure enough to anger some of his caucus's most conservative members, if that was the price of saving his party from yet another political disaster.

So could we actually be going back to the good old days, when reaching the debt ceiling meant that the opposition party would make some speeches about the administration's obscenely profligate spending, then the increase would pass and we'd forget about it for another year? By god, maybe we are. The GOP establishment is finally pushing back on the crazier parts of its coalition, and though Republicans paid lip service to the old arguments about how we have to get a handle on government spending ("We need to pay our bills today and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow," said Paul Ryan. "I'm disappointed that the President and Senate Democrats refuse to get serious about our fiscal challenges"), it's pretty obvious that the ones with any brains are breathing a sigh of relief.

Remember when Barack Obama talked about the fever of opposition to him in Congress breaking? Well that may not have happened. But for the moment, the Republican leadership has wrapped a tourniquet above the inflamed limb. It's a start.

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