Many of the votes were close and done at the eleventh hour. But as we have noted, the leaders of both parties always knew that they would find the votes to keep the United States from default. The 2011 faceoff was the first time the minority party used the debt limit as a hostage.
In two months, Republicans will try to do it again. But this time should be different. First, the president has made clear that he will not play this game. Second, the business and financial communities, largely absent from the 2011 debate, are speaking up about their opposition to routine threats not to raise the debt limit. Third, the public is more aware of the negative consequences of gambling with America’s credit.
So even if early March is gut-wrenching, it does not mean that Congress will again take the country to the precipice. Even most of the willing hostage-takers are not that reckless.
5. The 113th Congress will be as unproductive as the 112th.
There was not much in the 2012 elections to suggest that the deep pathologies in the American political system have been ameliorated. Republicans retained their majority in the House, and the conference moved further to the right. Moreover, the GOP demand for major spending cuts — with the sequestration, continuing spending resolution and debt-limit deadlines looming in the next two months — suggests that this will be another contentious “do-nothing” Congress.
But there are reasons to believe otherwise. Electoral prospects for Republicans have dimmed considerably, removing some of the incentives for opposing the president. The election brought a startling opening for a comprehensive immigration bill. New natural gas reserves provide an opportunity to craft a bipartisan approach to energy production and conservation. Gun-control legislation is suddenly more feasible. One more round of spending cuts and revenue increases totaling about $1 trillion over the next decade, with tax reform a major source of the latter, would at least stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio for the medium term and free policymakers to focus on economic growth, and health-care delivery and financing reforms.
Not all of these things are likely to happen. But if even a few do, it would mean a productive record for the 113th Congress compared with its dismal predecessor.
Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. They are the authors of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”