The bipartisan deal that ended the government shutdown after 16 tortuous days and gave the Treasury Department the authority to pay the nation’s bills brings relief but not celebration. The crisis has passed for now, but a replay looms early next year. Congressional battle lines have not moved and Wednesday’s agreement appears to have only deepened the divisions within the Republican Party that drove the shutdown in the first place.
However imperfect the deal — it keeps the government open only through Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling raised only through Feb. 7 — it beats default and economic harm. It should be considered, as Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi described it, “a means to an end.”
That “end” is a long-term budget agreement that sets a responsible course on deficits, spending and entitlements. Wednesday’s deal demands congressional budget negotiators meet and issue a progress report by Dec. 13. The deal does not require Republican and Democratic members of a joint House-Senate committee to reach a budget agreement but it requires them to talk, and talking is better than not talking.
A grand budget bargain has proved elusive for years and committee members already were tempering expectations Thursday. We want negotiators to succeed but are under no illusion they will do so.
Twenty-eight of the Senate’s 46 Republicans voted Wednesday to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit. Regrettably, Texas Sen. John Cornyn was not among them. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, was the only member of his chamber’s five-member Republican leadership team to vote against the deal, opting to defy Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and join instead his fellow Texan, Ted Cruz, and 16 other Republicans who voted against the measure.
McConnell earns a nod of appreciation for brokering the deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and pulling the country back from the edge of default. Like Cornyn, he is up for reelection next year. Unlike Cornyn, he has drawn a tea party challenger in the Republican primary. That challenger, Matt Bevin, immediately blasted McConnell for negotiating “the GOP surrender.”
A majority of Senate Republicans supported McConnell and voted for the deal. The opposite was true in the House, which passed the measure 285-144. All votes in opposition to the deal came from Republicans and represented almost two-thirds of the Republican House caucus.
Our disappointment in Cornyn’s vote extends to the Republican House members who represent parts of Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Reps. Michael McCaul of Austin, Roger Williams of Austin, John Carter of Round Rock, Lamar Smith of San Antonio, Bill Flores of Bryan and Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi all voted, essentially, to continue the shutdown and let the government default on its loans.
Cruz was the face of the shutdown. He plotted strategy with House Republicans, acting as a shadow speaker while the beleaguered real speaker, John Boehner of Ohio, struggled to control his caucus. Cruz declared Wednesday’s deal “terrible” and said the outcome could have been different if only his treacherous Senate colleagues had proved themselves as courageous and principled as he and his House allies are.
“Imagine a world in which Senate Republicans united to support House Republicans,” he said.
A majority of more pragmatic Senate Republicans and 87 House Republicans imagined such a world. Seeing potential catastrophe for the nation’s economy and their party’s future, along with the loss of America’s international prestige, they wisely cut their losses to carry the fight to another day.
Questions of conservative authenticity divide Republicans. The divide, exacerbated by Cruz and others, weakens rather than strengthens Republicans. If Cruz imagines unity, he’s doing little to forge it.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he hoped his fellow Republicans had learned their lesson — that shutdowns and manufactured crises were a losing cause. But considering post-vote remarks by Cruz and other tea party-aligned Republicans it appears the lesson learned is to try again, only this time stand firmer and defy the party’s wimpy leadership with even more conviction and determination.
And if their push for purity means we all potentially suffer, so be it.