Few events in professional sports are as maligned as the NFL's preseason games played in August.
For starters, most believe there are too many of them. Many think the NFL would be fine with two or three, rather than the four currently played. Secondly, a good preseason record is a wildly unreliable indicator for the success a team can expect in the regular season. And third, preseason games don't count.
For fans, preseason games get the juices flowing and give them a chance to tailgate. Preseason games let starters get some reps by playing a few series on the field. They grant rookies the opportunity to learn the offense and read safety blitzes. Preseason games are essential for coaches to evaluate their talent and see what their team is capable of.
The NFL's preseason games were months ago.
But the House of Representatives plays a Congressional version of one Wednesday.
Last week, President Obama sent Congress a request to increase the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives will likely vote down that request. And even so, President Obama will go ahead and still hike the debt limit.
In other words, Wednesday's House vote on the debt ceiling is like an NFL preseason game. It looks like regular season football. It sounds like regular season football. But it's artificial. The end result doesn't count. And it has no bearing on how things will go during the regular season.
In August, President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and others forged a deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling. They believed it was essential to hike the debt limit or the federal government would default. Included in that pact were provisions which permitted Mr. Obama to ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling on two additional occasions.
Debt ceiling votes are one of the most-weighty ballots lawmakers ever cast. But this is the era of the tea party fiscal restraint. Votes to raise the debt limit grate on Members of Congress unlike any time before. Plus, last summer's imbroglio over hiking the debt ceiling was an onerous experience that no one in Washington hopes to repeat any time soon.
The legislative engineers of last summer's debt ceiling agreement knew that Congress and the president would have to establish higher debt thresholds soon. But after barely cobbling together the necessary votes to approve the original debt ceiling pact, Congressional brass knew finding those votes for two additional extensions would be nearly impossible.
So, for the House and Senate, last summer's debt ceiling vote was a regular season game. The starters played all of the downs and the result counted in the standings.
Wednesday's game won't.
Think of Wednesday's vote as a shadow vote. Even if Congress says no to a new debt limit, Mr. Obama can just go over the heads of lawmakers and assign the federal government a higher line of credit anyway.
This is because the vote in the House (and an upcoming one in the Senate) won't be binding.
These are called "resolutions of disapproval."
By its nature, a "resolution" in the House or Senate lacks the force of law. So the House will vote on what's called a "resolution of disapproval." It reads like this: "The Congress disapproves of the president's exercise of authority to increase the debt limit."
Under last August's debt ceiling compromise, the sides agreed to give Mr. Obama the right to raise the debt limit, so long as Congress could opt to "disapprove" of it.
There's almost no chance the Republican-led House would not disapprove of the president's request. And even if the Senate joined suit, there's still little likelihood that Congress could block President Obama's effort. That's because the president could simply veto the resolutions of disapproval. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote of both bodies of Congress.
So, Wednesday's outcome appears to be a fait accompli. It doesn't matter what the House does. It's more than likely that Mr. Obama is raising the debt limit anyway.
174 Republicans joined 95 Democrats to agree to this maneuver on August 1 as it passed the House 269-161. Still, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) described Wednesday's effort as a "charade, a pretense, an abdication of responsibility."
Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) is the lead sponsor of the House's resolution of disapproval. In a statement, Reed noted that "stopping endless borrowing on the backs of our children and grandchildren is why I ran for Congress in the first place." But Wednesday's vote does little to bridle spending. Regardless, it sure looks good as lawmakers can "disapprove" of another debt ceiling hike, even if the outcome is already cast in stone. Plus, this vote protects lawmakers of both parties from having to increase the debt ceiling in an election year.
Reed voted for the August measure which made Wednesday's vote possible. But in an interview, he dismissed suggestions that this maneuver was merely a scrimmage.
"What this resolution will do is send a strong message to the world and to the country, that Congress, especially House Republicans, are serious about putting our fiscal house in order," Reed said.
The gambit also gave Republicans the opportunity to beat up the president.
"Once again, President Obama has asked Congress to raise our nation's debt ceiling in order to pay for out-of-control spending," groused Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) in a statement.
Like Reed, Miller also voted for the debt ceiling arrangement in August. But she pulled no punches when railing against Mr. Obama.
"I cannot support another increase in our nation's debt limit until President Obama and his allies in Congress join in making the difficult, long-term spending decisions necessary to bring fiscal discipline back to the federal budget," Miller said.
The fact that there's really very little anyone on Capitol Hill can do to halt this debt ceiling increase is what drives fiscal conservatives batty. This is why many tea party-affiliated lawmakers found the August debt ceiling arrangement so egregious. They didn't want to increase the debt limit in the first place. And they interpreted Wednesday's exercise as mere pageantry.
Which is kind of what a preseason NFL game is like. It has the colors. It has the jerseys. It has the cheerleaders and marching bands. Except it doesn't count.
This weekend, the NFL plays two games to determine the teams which will compete in this year's Super Bowl. There's nothing simulated about those match-ups.
Meantime, the House of Representatives plays the parliamentary equivalent of a preseason game. That's because regardless of the outcome, the result doesn't count in the regular season standings.
And the debt ceiling still climbs.