House and Senate members wasted what little time they scheduled for themselves to work in January on a political charade. It fooled no one in Washington but may dupe some voters this fall who had better things to do than follow congressional gamesmanship.
On Jan. 18, the House voted 239-176 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority, to block President Barack Obama from using the authority Congress had recently given him to raise the ceiling on the national debt.
Lawmakers took this seemingly bold stand with the expectation that the Senate would kill the measure or, if by some improbable legislative misjudgment the bill actually passed, the president would veto it. A profile in courage it was not.
If through some even more improbable series of mishaps the bill had actually become law, the Republicans would have been horrified and humiliated and run for cover. If the country hit the debt ceiling, it could not borrow the money to fulfill its obligations in ways the public surely would notice: not paying the troops, not sending out Social Security checks, and failing to pay Medicare bills.
The Senate last Thursday voted 52-44 — largely along party lines, with the Democrats in the majority — to kill the House plan.
GOP brinksmanship with the debt ceiling last summer resulted in the first downgrade in the national credit rating in U.S. history, and there were threats of further downgrades if the lawmakers didn't quit playing games and get serious about deficits. The result was the Budget Control Act, which gives Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress votes to oppose it. The architect of this sensible compromise was the Senate's top Republican, GOP leader Mitch McConnell.
In a year when Congress has given itself ample time off because of the elections, the lawmakers really don't have time for this kind of nonsense.