Two months ago, lawmakers had already circled March 27 on the calendars -- the date markedon which funding for the government would run out. A top Republican aide on Capitol Hill said at the time that a government shutdown fight might be necessary for GOP lawmakers to get the need for an apocalyptic confrontation with Obama "out of their system."
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said at the time, "I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we're serious." That she sounded more like a hostage taker than a legislator was not lost on Capitol Hill observers.
Two months later, however, cooler heads prevailed, and funding is now in place through the end of the fiscal year.
The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Senate-passed bill to avert a government shutdown next week that also provides the military and some domestic agencies more flexibility in dealing with $85 billion in automatic spending cuts.
The stop-gap measure, which funds government agencies and discretionary programs through the September 30 end of the current fiscal year, won approval in a 318-109 vote, and now moves to President Barack Obama's Desk to be signed into law.
In all, 203 Republicans voted to pass the Senate version, and they were joined by 115 Democrats.
The sequestration policy remains in effect, though today's continuing resolution "provides flexibility to the Pentagon and a handful of domestic programs in an effort to avoid some of the worst impacts of the automatic, indiscriminate spending cuts."
This is, to be sure, a positive development -- Congressional Storm Francis never had any significant effect on anyone -- and I'm glad there won't be a government shutdown next week. But I'd recommend keeping the champagne on ice.
For one thing, there's a debt-ceiling crisis on the horizon, which is not only likely to be ugly, but also poses a far more significant risk.
For another, I continue to think it's a shame that the political world considers it some kind of success story when government shutdowns are avoided.
Our expectations have been lowered to pathetic depths. In April 2011, Republicans threatened a government shutdown, which was narrowly averted. In September 2011, they threatened another. In April 2012, they threatened another. In early 2013, they threatened yet another.
In each instance, we're all relieved when the crisis passes, and I certainly understand why, but let's remember a nagging detail: there's no reason for us to be impressed when the legislative branch of the United States government manages, just barely, to keep its own lights on.
In other words, we've internalized absurd standards. We simply assume as a matter of course that important policymaking is nearly impossible, and we then celebrate basic legislative competence that, in the not-too-distant past, would have been considered routine and unremarkable.
Yes, I'm glad there won't be a government down. Yes, it's remarkable Congress got this done with six whole days to spare. But by any meaningful standard, this isn't an impressive legislative accomplishment; it's the bare minimum Americans should expect.