To the astonishment of many, Republicans in Congress did not make much of a fuss about raising the debt ceiling this past week. The leadership in the House let a “clean” bill — i.e., one that dealt solely with the debt limit — come to the floor, where it passed. In the Senate, Republicans cooperated in allowing the debt increase to be addressed by majority vote, rather than requiring a 60-vote threshold.
I’m not surprised. Many people are saying that House Speaker John Boehner is in trouble with conservative members of the Republican caucus for not insisting that the debt ceiling increase be coupled with debt reduction measures or other initiatives that are near and dear to tea party hearts — but I think, deep down, even conservative politicians are still politicians. And politicians know that one of the oldest rules in politics is that if your opponent is struggling and dropping in the polls, you don’t do anything that might interfere with that process.
The reality is that President Obama is struggling right now. Every week brings bad news for him — about problems with the Affordable Care Act, about his liberal and increasingly criticized use of executive orders rather than following the legislative process, about domestic spying, and about countless other foreign and domestic issues. The Real Clear Politics average of polling data shows the clear negative trend in presidential approval ratings. Why would Republicans want to pick a fight over the debt ceiling increase, threaten another governmental shutdown, and risk inviting that they receive some of the voter disapproval that is now being directed at the President?