Bob Neal

It’s a bit early to call this a trend, but the news in the past few days hints that some of our leaders have discovered a new tool. Common sense.

When President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy announced last Saturday they had an “agreement in principle,” I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to mutter, “’bout damn time.” They were agreeing on a bill to extend the debt limit for the 79th time since 1960 and to cap some spending.

After posturing for months, Democrat Biden and Republican McCarthy started some tit-for-tat, some “you gimme this and I’ll give you that,” and by Tuesday had a bill ready for Congress.

One long-overdue burst of common sense does not a trend make. But here are three other signs of common sense — two of them, believe it or not, from Washington. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill late of 2021 passed with 19 Senate Republicans joining all 50 Democrats. In the House, 13 Republicans joined 228 Democrats, even though their votes weren’t needed for passage.

Biden got the Inflation Reduction Act through Congress. And the city of Houston, sometimes called “the world’s largest outdoor sauna,” cut its homeless population by 63% in 11 years.

The infrastructure act focuses heavily on transportation and technology, areas in which the U.S. has slipped badly over the past several decades. Though job creation wasn’t its first goal, the law, which kicks into high gear late this year, may come at just the right time.


Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, said the jobs it brings may offset job losses in a cooling economy. “It feels like the handoff here could be reasonably graceful,” Zandi said. He sees the law adding some 360,000 jobs this year and 660,000 jobs by the end of 2025.

All because common sense united enough Rs and Ds to get going on some long overdue work.

One goal of the Inflation Reduction Act was to boost private investment, notably in renewable energy. It uses incentives, not mandates, and, Brian Deese wrote on Tuesday in The New York Times, two think tanks see private investment in renewable energy growing by one-and-a-half to three times what the legislation foresaw. Deese headed Biden’s National Economic Council.

Examples. Companies have announced plans to build 31 battery plants in the U.S. Others have laid out over the past eight months plans to build capacity to produce 96 gigawatts of renewable energy, which is four times the investment in clean power plants from 2017 to 2021.

And a bonus. Specific incentives went to companies investing in places that had relied on and/or lost their fossil-fuel production operations and to areas of economic decline.

Houston, a blue city in a red state, may demonstrate the most common sense of all. If people need houses, build houses. It’s called “Housing First.” The other aspects of homelessness can be dealt with after you get people off the street.


Politicians and residents alike spin their wheels bemoaning issues among unhoused people, such as mental illness and drug dependence. Yet, studies show that fewer than 25% of those without housing are mentally ill or on drugs. And some who are had mental breaks or turned to drugs after losing their homes.

Housing first uses a different logic: Don’t insist a drowning person learn to swim before returning to shore. You can teach her to swim after you get her back to land.

While Texas’s Republican legislature just acted to make voting harder in Houston, a Democratic city, it has left Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city alone to deal with the unhoused. Houston has found housing (housing, not shelters) for 25,000 people, and before he terms out at the end of 2024, he hopes to cut that in half again, using a mashup of city, county, state and federal money.

This is in keeping with what Jerusalem Demsas wrote in December in The Atlantic. The glamor cities, nearly all run by Democrats (Seattle, the other Portland, Los Angeles, New York, etc.) ignored housing as their tech and financial sectors grew. High-paid techies can spend anything for housing, and the market tells those least able to pay to move. Often, onto the street. And, those gentrified cities have let NIMBY-ism block nearly every effort at affordable housing.

Does that make you think of anywhere in Maine?

Back to the debt-ceiling bill that passed the House Wednesday and the Senate Thursday. With Biden’s signature, common sense overcame ideology. Maine’s four members of Congress voted yes. More than half of Republicans in each house opposed their leadership and voted no.

One swallow does not a spring make, but hope springs eternal. Sorry for mixing both metaphors and cliches. But the country stands to gain when we open the door to common sense.

When Bob Neal was campaigning last year for the Legislature and voters asked him about party, he said he was a “common sense Democrat.” Some voters seemed to think those words were an oxymoron. Neal can be reached at

Comments are no longer available on this story