Lurching From Crisis to Crisis, Congress Is Addicted to Cliffs

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Take Representative Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota. Approached by reporters, Mr. Cramer launched into extended praise of the short-term debt limit increase proffered by Mr. McConnell. He called it elegant, lauding the Senate leader’s craftiness in preserving the filibuster and depriving Democrats of a potent political argument against his party. It also averted a potential calamitous default. But Mr. Cramer still would not vote to allow it to move forward.

“I don’t think I will,” he said.

In the end, 11 Republicans, including retiring members with nothing to lose and members of the leadership, bit the bullet and sent the bill forward. It ultimately passed with only Democratic votes, and still must be approved by the House before it hits President Biden’s desk. The action is expected next week, mere days before a projected default.

Senator Roy Blunt, the veteran Missouri Republican who is retiring and was one of the 11, spoke for many when he muttered in the hallway: “Can’t explain anything in this place.”

The dysfunction was evidently contagious. Even the subway that ferries lawmakers, staff, media and visitors between the Capitol and the Senate office buildings broke down on Thursday, trapping a couple of luckless riders for a brief period. It, too, had reached its limit.

The underlying debt fight is over whether Democrats will raise the debt ceiling through regular procedures or via a more convoluted budget process, a technical distinction so fine that it is surely indistinguishable to virtually every American not intimately familiar with the Budget Control Act.

“I don’t think they understand it a bit,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, of members of the public. “It is confusing for people who work here.”

“The debt ceiling debate is absurd with a capital A,” said Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who leads the Finance Committee.

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