Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | 6:41 p.m.
Rep. Shelley Berkley has been warning for weeks about the dangers of failing to raise the debt ceiling, but Tuesday night, she voted against a measure to lift that legal cap, in an apparent refusal to participate in what many Democrats have complained is a show vote, designed to allow Republicans to amplify their record of battling runaway spending.
The vote won’t take the issue off the table in Berkley’s expected Senate matchup with Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who has said it would be “very, very difficult” for him to vote to raise the debt ceiling, and almost impossible if it isn’t accompanied by “trillions” of dollars in cuts to the budget.
But it will temper the discourse for the short term, giving Berkley the opportunity to assert the nuanced position of wanting to save the country from financial ruin, but only on the back of a more sound fiscal policy.
She wasn’t alone in her vote. The measure, which sought to give the government an extra $2.4 trillion of wiggle room to avoid defaulting on foreign debts free from any offsetting cuts to the budget, split the Democratic caucus almost down the middle: 97 voted for it, 82 voted against, and seven voted “present.” All Republicans who participated in the vote voted against the measure, including Nevada Rep. Joe Heck.
There are political considerations to be made in these moves: “I voted to raise the debt ceiling free of charge” doesn’t sound the greatest on the campaign trail. But those Democrats who have been stressing how necessary raising the debt ceiling is are taking a gamble in voting against it: If budget negotiators don’t come up with a compromise that also raises the debt limit by early August — that being when the Treasury Department says it can no longer stave off the effects of a crash — and the worst happens, they’re going to have to explain why they voted to economically stick it to the country and its markets.
That matters in Nevada more than other states because of the particular nature of the race. Heller certainly hasn’t suggested he’d be champing at the bit to support a debt-limit increase, but being in the Senate, he also isn’t likely to get a chance to vote on the debt limit until a compromise is reached, since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he thinks the idea of voting on a measure everyone agrees can’t pass is “irresponsible.”
Reid has staged his fair share of show votes pertaining to the budget. But with Berkley on record now as having voted against a clean increase, it won’t do much good to force Heller to take a similar “nay” vote.
At this point, Berkley is the only candidate in that contentious Senate race on the books as having voted on the subject of a debt-limit increase.