What they're saying

2/20/2014

Express News, San Antonio, on Boehner and legislation:

Express News, San Antonio, on Boehner and legislation:

Raising the nation's debt ceiling should be routine.

This allows the federal government to pay its bills — obligations substantially imposed by Congress.

But this has become not so routine. Last week, the House majority's leadership needed the House minority to muster enough votes to accomplish even this boilerplate legislation. And on Wednesday, Republican leaders, because of recalcitrance in the GOP rank and file, had to provide the votes to allow a floor vote on the legislation, which then passed 55-43.

That so much effort was required to accomplish what should be so routine says much about the dysfunctional state of Congress these days. But in this drama, some sanity emerged. Our hope is that it lasts.

House Speaker John Boehner prevented another useless display of brinkmanship by outwardly defying his own caucus, which secretly wanted to avoid another crisis but didn't want to take the heat for raising the debt ceiling.

And the same dynamic existed in the Senate, where Texas' own John Cornyn joined Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to get past the 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle to get the bill to the floor.

Then there's Texas' other senator, Ted Cruz. He forced the need to get those 60 votes.

Yes, the junior senator yearned for yet another showdown after helping engineer the last shutdown in October. The country was not amused.

In the House, only 28 Republicans voted for the measure, joining 221 Democrats. Conservative groups are now calling for the speaker's ouster.

And both McConnell and Cornyn had to know they were helping primary election foes.

Cornyn's challengers have laughably been trying to paint one of the most conservative senators in the country as a liberal.

The GOP caucuses likely won't admit it, but Boehner, McConnell and Cornyn all took one for their team. And helped the nation.

But here's the biggest takeaway. Important legislation got approved in the House because the speaker allowed a floor vote. And it got approved in the Senate because a few Republicans finagled the bill onto the floor for a vote.

This has been rare. Legislation has been blocked, in the House because of the so-called Hastert rule, which dictates that no legislation moves if the majority of the GOP caucus disapproves. And procedural maneuvers by the minority party in the Senate have blocked legislation there.

So, how many meaningful measures might now be law with the kind of straight-up votes that occurred here? Imagine: members of Congress running in this midterm election on accomplishment rather than obstruction.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Argentina's fall:

Argentina, Latin America's largest economy after Brazil and Mexico, appears again to be in deep economic trouble.

Inflation is running at 55 percent. The peso lost most of its value in January. The government is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to approve postponement of the repayment of a $1.3 billion installment on a loan, including to two U.S. hedge funds, in order to avoid default.

Argentina has defaulted three times before on major loans, in 1982, 1989 and 2001. The question is why would anyone loan the country $140 billion?

On top of all this, Argentinian President Cristina E. Fernandez de Kirchner, 61, has been in questionable health since suffering a brain injury last year, calling into question her ability to make decisions at a time of economic adversity. Presidential elections are scheduled for next year and she can't run, facing term limits.

So how did this situation occur? Argentina appears to have a deeply ingrained culture of economic irresponsibility. It spends money it doesn't have, borrows what it can to make up the difference and defaults when it feels it must.

Too bad the United States exhibits some of the same fiscal habits. Most Americans were rightly glad that Congress raised the debt limit this month. Reasonable Republicans went along with it because they saw the threat of voters' fury this year if they shut down the government again. At the same time, America's national debt stands at a stunning $17.3 trillion and the federal government is still running annual budget deficits, even though Americans may rejoice that the deficits are shrinking a little.

The United States has low inflation, although everyone knows that the real cost of living is rising, not falling. It is also worth noting that America's debt to foreign lenders stands at nearly $6 trillion, a third of it to China and Japan.

Argentina will probably get bailed out again. The rescue should be accompanied by harsh words about fiscal responsibility. American politicians should be obliged to read those words also.

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