clearing the decks (photo: mag3737)

In addition to patent reform, the Senate took another step last night with little fanfare. They allowed for the increase in the debt limit by $500 billion, per the agreement in the debt limit deal. Under the deal, the debt limit increased right away by $400 and the President was able to request another $500 billion, but the Congress could use a resolution of disapproval to essentially disapprove of the increase. Then the President could veto that disapproval, and that could be sustained by just 1/3 of either chamber. It was a silly, Rube-Goldberg way to increase the debt limit. But Democrats actually stopped the resolution of disapproval yesterday:

The action came under an unusual legislative procedure spelled out under the August agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and avoid a U.S. credit default. In a 52-45 vote, the Senate blocked an attempt by Republicans to slow down the process that will result in the $500 billion debt-ceiling increase […]

There was a twist in this scenario Thursday evening, however. Democrats held firm, rejecting the resolution of disapproval, thereby speeding the process and increasing the borrowing limit immediately.

Only Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) broke from his party to vote with the Republicans in trying to move forward with the measure.

This didn’t have any fanfare attached to it, there was no campaign around it. The debt limit just got increased, and there wasn’t even a two-step of votes, but a one-step. This will be the case, too, when the next increase, of between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion depending on the outcome of the Catfood Commission II, comes into being.   [cont’d.] Maybe these votes on a resolution of disapproval will be valuable to Republicans come election season; I could see an ad saying “Claire McCaskill voted to increase the debt limit THREE TIMES!” or something. But that’s something Democrats would have to deal with regardless, so it’s not a big deal.

Furthermore, it appears that the FAA funding extension, which expires next week, will be extended without much of a fight as well.

House and Senate leaders appear set to extend Federal Aviation Administration funding for at least several months, without resolving disputes over aviation-union rules and other broader labor issues that previously blocked passage of a long-term agency spending bill.

Democrats and Republicans alike are seemingly eager to avoid a repeat of the partisan fight that temporarily sidelined scores of airport construction projects and furloughed some 4,000 FAA employees for nearly two weeks this summer. The lawmakers are focused on a stopgap reauthorization measure that could fund the agency for a period of several months or up to a year, according to industry and labor officials familiar with the issue.

Final details need to be worked out, these officials said, and unexpected last-minute disagreements still could prevent passage of the new legislation before the current stopgap funding expires at the end of next week. Without new spending authority, portions of FAA again would have to shut down.

Even if a spending cutoff is avoided, however, various lawmakers, airline officials and labor leaders have signaled they intend to resume a long-running battle over union-organizing rules once Congress takes up a multiyear FAA spending package.

Republicans in the House never even appointed members to a conference committee to work out differences between the two long-term authorization bills already passed in each chamber. So it’s going to be a short-term extension or nothing, and according to this, it will be a short-term extension, pushing out the final solution for up to nine months.

I think Republicans are showing themselves sensitive to criticism over hostage-taking, at least in the short term. It did damage to their party in the debt limit debate, and they’re wary of jumping into another fight of a similar ilk. The next hurdles to clear will be 2012 appropriations and surface transportation funding, both of which expire September 30. There apparently will be a continuing resolution on appropriations coming in a couple weeks, but it’s unclear what will be done on surface transportation, which is tied up in part with the American Jobs Act. There’s also the matter of disaster relief funding.

If we can get away with all of these being resolved without a mass shutdown of any kind, we will definitely be lucky. I wouldn’t have totally predicted that a month ago.

David Dayen

David Dayen