December 17, 2013
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) leave the Senate floor before the vote to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) leaves the Senate floor.  (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

For all the fretting about getting past a GOP filibuster on the budget deal, it wasn’t all that close. The Senate easily invoked cloture 67 to 33, with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats. Republicans needed to contribute only five votes, so 12 was impressive considering the grief they’ll get from the shutdown-squad types and the prospect of primary challenges many senators face in 2014. The Republicans who voted in favor of moving to a vote were  Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Susan Collins (Maine), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rob Portman (Ohio). Of these, only two (Collins and Alexander) face reelection in 2014 (Chambliss is retiring). Collins is not in danger of a primary challenge from the right. By contrast, of the Republicans who voted no, more than 10 are up for reelection and three are shutdown-squad ringleaders Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Ted Cruz (Tex.).

In short, the people who felt they had to vote no (out of conviction or fear) did so, while those who had little to lose voted, in essence, to avoid another shutdown. The most interesting vote was Portman’s. Stung by push-back from anti-gay marriage groups (on the war path since he announced his change in position) he’s toed the right-wing line fairly assiduously. He voted no on the final GOP immigration bill and cast his initial filibuster vote with Cruz, helping to enlarge the bloc leading the GOP over the cliff. Both votes surprised many supporters (especially conservative Hispanics who had worked well with him). Perhaps this vote suggests he’s grown less wary of attacks from the right and/or that a “no” on filibustering is a solidly defensible vote back home.

In any case, most of the Republicans who voted to end a filibuster will vote no on the merits, given that there are enough Democratic votes to ensure passage. Those Republicans, I suppose, are against filibustering and small-ball deals for the sake of compromise. It’s not unreasonable for those in the minority to take that stance. It’s not their obligation to pass the compromise; Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and her Democratic colleagues made the deal and hence must get it through.

As with House Republicans, the Senate hard-liners and the outside groups that harangue Republicans on their behalf have been cut down to size. For now, they aren’t able to force confrontation and chaos (if they did, they might well try to avoid it, having been tagged as destructive and blamed in the shutdown fight). There are enough responsible Republicans that the rest can grandstand. In some sense, the three Senate hard-liners can be happy too – they didn’t cause chaos, but they fed red meat to the base. The downside, however, for the three senators with presidential ambitions — Cruz, Rubio and Rand Paul (Ky.) — is that this is the conduct of less-than-courageous minority lawmakers, not that of a potential president of the United States. Voting not to protect the military and for another face-off may not, come 2016, seem very presidential to a lot of primary voters.

At any rate, liberals should be compelled to alter their blanket condemnation of all Republicans as obstructionist or radical. In fact, some are, but not enough this time to matter.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.