The 28 House Republicans who broke with 199 of their GOP colleagues this week to effectively prevent another government shutdown did their party and their colleagues a pretty big favor.
The defections allowed a no-strings-attached waiver of the federal government's borrowing limit until March of 2015 to pass the House by a 221-201 vote (two Democrats joined the 199 Republicans who voted no). The measure was easily passed in the Democrat-controlled Senate, thus averting a repeat of last year's highly unpopular government shutdown, for which congressional Republicans took the brunt of the blame in opinion polls.
We don't disagree that the $17 trillion-and-climbing national debt is a tremendous problem that has to be brought to heel sooner rather than later. But if that truly is the goal of congressional Republicans, they are going to have to reclaim the Senate majority and ultimately the White House to accomplish it.
As the Wall Street Journal observed: "â ¦ by avoiding a cliff-hanging debt fight (Speaker John) Boehner's strategy may advance a central political goal ahead of the midterm elections: to keep the public focused on the problems of the 2010 health care law, which Republican candidates are trying to pin on Democrats."
Polls do show Democrats faring poorly on the increasingly unpopular health insurance reform law, better known as Obamacare, and on their handling of the economy in general. Tactically it makes sense to keep those issues on the political center-stage.
Passage of a no-strings-attached increase in the debt limit, which was demanded by President Obama, is unusual. It's the first time it has happened since 2007. And in the vast majority of previous votes, some sort of spending reduction provision has been attached to the increase in the cap.
But that simply gives the 199 Republicans who opposed the bill something to campaign on, and it is apparent Democrats think it is potentially potent. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland tried to deflect the political liability by arguing during floor debate on the bill that both parties contributed to the debt problem. "We were all responsible for the debt," he said.
True, the Republicans had a hand in it during the tenure of George W. Bush, a fact that still miffs many party faithful. But the Democrats will have a hard time dodging the legacy of former White House advisor Rahm Emanuel's famous quote - "You never let a serious crisis go to waste" - that presaged the Obama "stimulus" program and resulting successive years of trillion-dollar budget deficits. Never, under any modern president, has the national debt doubled, as it is on pace to do under President Obama.
So the emotion of the issue aside, tactically the GOP is in a strong position as a result of the House vote. They have Obamacare, the economy, and a soaring deficit as potent arrows for the fall campaign. Sometimes to win it's best to wait to fight another day. The House vote on the debt limit was such a time for the GOP.