Little-known fact: the deal that ended the government shutdown in mid-October did not technically involve a Congressional vote to raise the country’s debt ceiling. Rather, it allowed President Barack Obama to suspend the debt ceiling until February 7, unless both chambers of Congress passed motions disapproving of the action. The compromise enabled Republicans to put themselves on record opposing any further increase in the debt limit without pushing the U.S. into default. As Susan Davis explained in USA Today, even if a disapproval motion cleared the House and Senate, the president “would presumably veto it, putting the burden on Congress to find veto-proof majorities to override it – a near-impossible outcome […].”
Last week both chambers considered identical disapproval resolutions, drafted by Republicans. Supporters of the resolution asserted that they were not voting for default, just trying to send a message that “We have to get our debt under control.” When the Senate considered the resolution on October 29, all 45 Republicans present voted yes, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley. But it failed to pass as all 54 members of the Democratic caucus voted no, including Iowa’s Tom Harkin.
The House took up the resolution the following day and passed it by 222 votes to 191 (roll call). Only a few representatives crossed party lines on the vote. Iowa’s House members split as one would expect: Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) went on record against “the President’s exercise of authority to suspend the debt limit,” while Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed the resolution. I have to laugh at Latham’s faux-statesmanship, voting for the deal that averted default before turning around and voting against the presidential action that averted default.
I’m with those who would make this phony “disapproval” exercise a permanent replacement for Congressional votes to raise the debt ceiling. A symbolic gesture is a small price to pay to avoid future hostage-taking scenarios.