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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Just like old times, nearly

by John Brummett | June 7, 2023 at 3:29 a.m.

That was a joyous abundance of pragmatism going on last week in the debt-ceiling vote by the usually non-pragmatic and Trump-cowed Washington delegation from Arkansas.

It was as if Arkansas had a responsible congressional delegation again, if for a couple of days.

Five of the six members of the delegation held their noses to vote for the Joe Biden-Kevin McCarthy compromise. Nose-holding is the stance of pragmatic compromise.

The other, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, voted "no" only when it was a pointless act without consequence as politics or policy.

In the House, the Republican imperative was to approve the negotiations of Speaker McCarthy and win a "majority of the minority," meaning more than half the Republican votes. The idea was to head off any appearance that McCarthy was at risk of losing his tenuously won speakership. All four of the state's Republican House members did their parts to oblige that objective, which was met.

In a phrase I'd never expected to write, Rick Crawford of the 1st District made the most practical sense. He said the choices were to default on the national debt, raise the debt ceiling with no spending cuts or vote for an imperfect compromise that at least contained a few conservative Republican concepts.

Not only did he outline the choices accurately, but he also chose sanely.

U.S. Rep. French Hill in the 2nd District said he and other McCarthy lieutenants had been working for weeks on conservative priorities in the negotiated agreement, and that, in the end, the Republican House was the only part of government that pushed raising the debt ceiling along with "sensible reforms."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack in the 3rd District was distressed about spending too little on defense and making no progress on mandatory non-military spending, but said the compromise otherwise achieved enough conservative objectives to get his vote.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman in the 4th District said he stayed up late studying the compromise and found important conservative advancements in it, primarily the relaxing of the process and shortening of the time period for getting energy-exploration permits approved.

He pronounced himself surprised to find real conservatism on several of the pages.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had left negotiations entirely up to McCarthy. Thus, he had no personal leverage at stake. All he needed was enough Republican "aye" votes to supplement the overwhelming number of Democratic yes votes to exceed the threshold for avoiding a deal-defying, economic meltdown-inviting filibuster.

He got 18 Republican votes, more than enough, and was able to leave 31 Republicans to their own pointless devices--pointless in that they couldn't affect the policy or politics, but only their personal pleasure.

Cotton thus voted an empty "no," fretting as Womack had fretted--while voting yes--about defense spending.

Cotton and extreme-right brethren like Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawkins voted "no" on the argument that they couldn't possibly countenance short-changing defense at such a dangerous time with the Ukraine war raging.

Actually, McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signed a letter promising to bring forward measures for supplemental defense spending as needed. But Cotton was able to avoid having to place any trust in Schumer.

As for the ever-gentlemanly senior senator, John Boozman, he voted to help his pal McConnell clear the filibuster threshold. He offered his usual cant, which was in this case that the compromise, while imperfect, comprised actual and welcome spending restraints and, after all, wasn't the last word to be heard on the issues.

Boozman was far enough past his recent re-election to revert to the occasional reason that had defined him--until, that is, he found himself opposed last time in a primary by three right-wing extremists, necessitating that he bow before Trump to hold on to the madman's vital endorsement.

The fact of the matter is that Trump was largely ignored by Republican members of Congress. Remember that, in the CNN "town hall," he'd advocated defaulting on the national debt.

Five-sixths of the Arkansas delegation ignored that while the sixth, Cotton, voted only superfluously in a way that only coincidentally or accidentally meshed with anything Trump had said.

If only for a day, the debt-ceiling vote gave rise to two old Arkansas political traditions. That was old-fashioned common sense in five of the cases and, in the sixth, voting against the party when it doesn't mean anything.

In the current context, that amounts to a red-letter day.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Print Headline: Just like old times, nearly


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