There was nothing to fear except partisanship itself in the Senate Thursday, Jan. 31 as lawmakers passed a bill raising the debt ceiling to May in anticipation of unsuccessful negotiations in March.
Fearing the March deadline too close for successful fiscal cliff negotiations on hyper-partisan Capitol Hill, the democratically-controlled Senate passed the bill with a 64–34 vote.
The measure is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama and will give Republican and Democratic congressman breathing room to find common ground on key fiscal cliff issues like taxes, deficit spending and balanced budgeting.
Postponing the threat of sequestration and a government shutdown through July, the bill raises the debt ceiling to $16.4 trillion.
The Republican House and Democratic Senate have until the May deadline to reach a budget agreement before congressional paychecks are withheld as part of the law.
The highly publicized cliff-side duel between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner has already frightened markets into reducing the U.S. credit rating.
The fragile economy showed significant slowing as a result during its biggest quarter last December.
Gun control also occupied new headroom in the Senate last week as former Democratic Representative from Arizona Gabrielle Giffords made a statement in support of a new assault weapons ban drafted in the chamber.
“Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important,” Giffords said to a panel weighing new gun legislation.
“Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you,” Giffords said.
Gifford’s halting, slow, emotional speech was a dramatic reminder of the assassination attempt by a lone gunman in January of 2011 that left her with a traumatic brain injury, forcing her to resign her seat in the House.
Other panels included the successful confirmation hearing of now-former Sen. John Kerry as the new 68th Secretary of State.
The former Foreign Relations Committee chairman and Massachusetts senator since 1985 took the oath of office in the Senate Foreign Relations Room Friday evening. Kerry was confirmed by a vote of 94–3.
“As a senator, as a member of this committee, and as a chairman, John has already built strong relationships with leaders across the world, which will allow him to step seamlessly into the role of Secretary of State,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. said.
Menendez served on the Foreign Relations Committee with Kerry.
“Sen. Kerry will need no introduction to the world’s political and military leaders and will begin day one fully conversant not only with the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy but able to act on a multitude of international stages,” Menendez said.
In a less successful Senate hearing, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel faced fierce opposition from his own party over his Secretary of Defense nomination by Obama, and has yet to be confirmed.
Delayed policy deadlines and contentious confirmation appointments confirm that no amount of fear is going to back down anyone’s partisanship politics on Capitol Hill anytime soon.