By MARSHA MERCER
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” President Kennedy said in his 1962 State of the Union Address.
The sun is shining, and now’s the time to fix the debt ceiling for the future.
Led by Speaker John Boehner, the House stepped back from the brink Tuesday and approved extending the federal government’s borrowing authority until March 15, 2015, no strings attached. The Senate followed Wednesday.
Congress does its job -- hip, hip, hurray!
It’s a sign of our low expectations of Washington that the absence of a last-minute game of chicken was considered a great achievement.
The country will not suffer a self-inflicted fiscal black eye. Yes! The government will honor its debts, federal parks will stay open and our economy won’t go into a tailspin. We’re No. 1!
There will be peace in the valley again. Ha. Let’s not go overboard. Forget peace in the valley or on the Hill.
Boehner tried for two weeks to squeeze concessions from the White House in return for Republican votes to lift the debt ceiling. A change in the Affordable Care Act? No. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline? No. Restoration of cost-of-living increases to military pensions? No.
President Barack Obama wouldn’t budge from a “clean” bill.
Boehner told his House Republican colleagues at a private breakfast Tuesday that the measure would include no special conditions. The goal was practical: Congress would do its job and avoid an election-year repeat of last fall’s high drama showdown and shutdown.
Last October, Republicans hoping to kill the health law forced a 16-day federal government shutdown that did nothing to dislodge Obamacare but took a $24 billion bite out of the economy, as estimated by Standard & Poor. Americans mostly blamed Republicans, although Democrats’ approval ratings slid as well.
“We’re not going to make ourselves the story,” Boehner said at the breakfast, The Washington Post reported. The room was hushed as he returned to his seat.
“I’m getting this monkey off your back, and you’re not going to even clap?” the Ohio Republican asked in mock scorn. Such is party unity among the GOP.
Boehner has long had problems bringing his conference together at all, much less mustering the 218 votes that constitute a House majority.
“When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing,” he told reporters.
The debt limit measure passed 221 to 201 in the House, with 199 Republicans voting no. Boehner and 27 of his fellow Republicans voted for it. Most of the GOP yes votes came from House leaders, such as Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, or members who are retiring, such as Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia.
The White House didn’t gloat, but press secretary Jay Carney did suggest that Congress now get behind Obama’s push to hike the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and renew long-term jobless benefits. As if.
Congress and the White House should use the breathing room of the next year to work together to make the debt ceiling a non- issue, as it once was. Neither party should lose stature because it acts responsibly. Paying our bills should be a given, not a bargaining chip.
Some in Congress have introduced fixes to the recurring debit limit debacle. Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat, and Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Chuck Schumer of New York and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii have bills that would shift the role of Congress. Instead of approving increases in the debt ceiling, Congress would have to disapprove them.
A similar proposal by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, became part of last fall’s deal that raised the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. Democrats want to make permanent the McConnell fix.
A few centrist Republicans say they’re interested in the idea, but it’s unlikely to gain traction this year as Democrats and Republicans score political points before the midterm elections.
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, “When this is over, we will focus on our agenda and – if we win six seats in the Senate – what we will do different if we control all of Congress.”
Boehner was wrong about one thing. Republicans did become the story. Washington news has become a running tally of winners and losers.
“GOP’s debt ceiling surrender,” read headlines in Politico and other news outlets.
This time, though, the Republicans’ political retreat was a victory for the country. Boehner deserves a hand.
And as the sun shines, Democrats and Republicans should join in fixing the debt ceiling for the future.
©2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.