The Way I See It: Raising the Debt Ceiling Hand-in-Hand
While Ted Cruz might not be happy, Congress passed its first clean debt ceiling increase since 2009.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an increase in the debt ceiling. After some conversation about attaching additional conditions to the legislation, House Speaker John Boehner and many in his leadership team were among the 28 Republicans who joined with Democrats to pass an extension of the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015 – meaning, a full election year free of budget battles.
The bill passed by a vote of 221 to 201. One-hundred-and-ninety-three Democrats and 28 Republicans voted for the bill, while 199 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against it.
Interesting to note, though, is that three Pennsylvania Republicans – Reps. Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Pat Meehan – supported the bill out of the 28 total GOP yeas. Of those three, Dent and Meehan will face no challenger this year's upcoming election, while Fitzpatrick lacks a primary opponent. This suggests that those Republicans who voted in support did it because they felt it was the right thing to do – not because they wanted to win an election.
Keep in mind that the last time Congress passed a "clean" debt ceiling increase was in 2009 – when Democrats held the House.
For those of you who may not be aware, this is a big deal. Remember when the government shutdown back in October – for oh, over two weeks? That was due much in part to our Republican counterparts not compromising – at least according to the polls. While blame can be placed on both groups for that debacle, the Republicans' divisions on spending provoked the ultimate shutdown. Aside from shutting down the government, which was sad and pathetic all on its own, the divide also weakened House Speaker John Boehner's negotiating position with President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who stuck to their refusal to consider conditions for raising the debt limit.
In an effort to reposition Republications in a positive light, Boehner promised enough votes to get it to pass. While the majority of the Republicans didn't want to see this happen, time was of the essence, and had they not accomplished this, it may have led to yet another critical failure of government. This choice definitely doesn't please the Tea Party conservatives who oppose any kind of increase in federal borrowing, but it may have been a necessary evil in order to move forward.
And if you're questioning how successful Boehner has been at achieving his stated goal of reducing the deficit and controlling spending, here's a little perspective: In 2010, the year before Boehner was Speaker, the government had a $1.3 trillion deficit with a budget of $3.4 trillion (25 percent of the gross domestic product). Last year, during his third year as Speaker, while the budget was still $3.4 trillion, this represented only 21 percent of the GDP – and the budget deficit has been cut in half to $680 billion. While this is still high on both accounts, if his term was to end in 2014, those are pretty significant achievements for a Republican Speaker working with an opposing Democrat in the White House.
The day after the House passed the bill, the Democratic-controlled Senate then gave final approval by a 55-43 margin. So, the long and short of it is that it almost seems as if the two groups might be, well… working together. While not a favorable move for many Republicans, it was a smart move – in the public eye at the very least. This decision staves off what would have been another inevitable shutdown, possibly helps to shrink what's been a great divide between the parties, and gives the constituents small hope that the two parties can work together – ultimately providing a healthier outlook for us as a nation.
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How Your Pennsylvania Representatives Voted:
All five Democratic members of the House from Pennsylvania (Brady, Cartwright, Doyle, Fattah, and Schwartz) voted for the bill. Additionally, three PA Republicans as previously mentioned: Reps. Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Pat Meehan.
Of the ten other Republican members that voted against, among those ten only one, Rep. Bill Shuster, is currently facing a primary challenger. Another three, Reps. Tom Marino, Tim Murphy and Keith Rothfus, have Democratic opponents. Five incumbent Congressmen (Reps. Lou Barletta, Mike Kelly, Scott Perry, Joseph Pitts and Glenn Thompson) are running completely unopposed. Finally, Rep. Jim Gerlach is retiring at the end of the year.