Enough congressional Republicans finally have gotten the message that refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling and shutting down the federal government is bad policy and terrible politics. The Senate sent to President Barack Obama on Wednesday no-strings-attached legislation to raise the debt limit so the nation can continue to pay its bills for another 13 months. The narrow Senate vote followed the House's approval a day earlier, and there is no reason why Congress shouldn't tackle other issues in similar fashion.
House Speaker John Boehner finally stood up to the tea party followers Tuesday when he allowed lawmakers to vote on a debt ceiling bill unfettered by other conditions. Just 28 Republicans joined 193 Democrats to pass the measure 221-201, effectively ending the three-year showdown on the debt ceiling, which lets the government borrow money to pay costs it has already incurred. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill Wednesday after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell helped clear away a filibuster hurdle. The backlash from conservative groups already is in full swing, but voters are tired of partisan gridlock in Washington.
This week's votes are pragmatic efforts to keep the Republican Party out of another public relations fiasco such as the one triggered by last year's 16-day government shutdown. Lawmakers eventually reached a deal in October that allowed the government to operate until the end of this month, but opinion polls showed the public blamed Republicans for the shutdown. This time, Republicans first tried to tie any increase in the debt ceiling to the restoration of modest cuts to military pensions, which had been approved as part of a budget deal in December. When that failed to win enough House support, Boehner abandoned his usual practice of requiring legislation to be supported by a majority of Republicans and allowed a clean debt ceiling bill to be passed with primarily Democratic votes.
Only a handful of Republicans stood with Boehner, voting yes in favor of paying the nation's bills. Not a single member of Florida's Republican delegation was among them. Reps. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Richard Nugent of Spring Hill once again voted for ideological purity rather than a sensible way forward.
Of course, Republicans are looking toward the midterm elections and trying to avoid creating controversy as they continue bashing health care reform. But as long as Boehner is allowing condition-free votes on controversial issues, he should allow clean votes on immigration and flood insurance. Americans want Congress to focus on bipartisan solutions rather than ideological stalemates.