The final vote in the Senate on raising the debt ceiling was telling. In the end, 83 senators behaved responsibly, disregarded the jackals howling for turmoil and made certain the economy did not crash. They voted for cloture, setting up a final vote on passage of the bill. Sixteen Republican no votes (Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma did not vote) on cloture — a pathetic result when you think about it — is all the shutdown squad could muster. (Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Tim Scott of South Carolina voted for cloture but against the final bill.) Late Wednesday night, the House passed the bill with a 285-144 vote.
The Senate shutdown squad from whom the strategy originated talked a good game and talked themselves into believing they really represent the aspirations of the American people, but you have to think that attracting only 14 votes is a disappointment to Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). They simply don’t have the sway they’d like you to believe.
Interestingly, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was not among the “no” voters. He had voted with Cruz before the shutdown on his initial opposition to cloture on the House defunding bill. But with time he realized that if he wants to be among the grown-ups in government, he has to act and vote like one. No more lame excuses for tagging along with the Cruzans. Good for him.
As for the three presidential aspirants, Cruz, Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who also voted no, one should consider precisely what they did. At this point in the process, the choice was default or raise the debt ceiling. There was no other option Wednesday night. They can say, well, they voted no but it passed anyway, so no harm, no foul. But wait. How can a responsible senator who wants the presidency shift the obligation to others? If any of these three had been in the Oval Office, would he have vetoed the bill and sent the markets spinning out of control?
Bizarrely, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) joined this group, a deviation from his usual role as a responsible player in these fights. He issued a confusing statement Wednesday night saying, on one hand, this only kicked the can down the road, but then declaring, “I look forward to convening the first conference on a budget resolution since 2009. And though a budget resolution by itself can’t resolve our spending problem, I’m committed to making a bipartisan budget conference a success.”
I asked communications director Elizabeth Anderson if her boss, Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), had been the deciding vote and the alternative would have been default whether he would have voted the same way. She refused to answer: “No way am I going down that speculative path.” But isn’t that a basic question he and those who may seek the presidency are obliged to answer?
It is interesting that those hectoring for the defund strategy and insisting on a “no” vote on the debt limit pose as fighting “against the establishment.” But Jim DeMint, former House and Senate member and now the handsomely paid head of a Washington think tank (albeit one that has been subsumed to the interests of Heritage Action), is about as “establishment” as you can get. The “fight the establishment” groups are filled with crusty insiders, most of whom have not been in office for decades, if at all, and/or who operate in the deep red echo chamber. Consider these names from the Conservative Action Project: Ed Meese, former Rep. David McIntosh, Phyllis Schlafly and Brent Bozell. The heads of D.C.-based uber-conservative groups with an atrocious record on picking election winners (Mike Needham of Heritage Action, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Chris Chocola of Club for Growth) are hardly outsiders, nor do they make any effort to appeal beyond the hardest of the hard-core GOP base. This is the group of outsiders who are in touch with real Americans? Please.
Cruz himself is an Ivy Leaguer and veteran of the George W. Bush administration. Rubio has spent his entire adult life in government (first in the Florida legislature and then in the Senate). Mike Lee? Federal clerk, assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and counsel to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
So in what sense are these people fighting the establishment? They are working, for decades in some cases, within the lucrative D.C. system. They epitomize narrow-cast politics directed to a small minority on the right that thrives on resentment toward liberal elites. They justify the current debacle on the grounds that fighting for fighting’s sake — no matter what the damage — is noble. They know how to make money and cull the party for the most devoted (or pliant) believers. They do not build governing majorities or understand the 21st-century voting electorate. Surely, current Republican governors who win the votes of not only Republicans but also Democrats and independent voters in states all around the country — and who opposed the shutdown — have a better read on America and the electorate than does the shutdown crew.
This is why it is not surprising that the shutdown squad’s months-long endeavor caused a lot of disruption but made so little progress. The voters are overwhelmingly against them. Republicans are against them. The governors are against them. And 83 percent of the Senate is against them. Maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the best people from whom one should take political advice.