Media Moves

No debt ceiling fight!

February 12, 2014

Posted by Liz Hester

In one of the sanest moves in recent Congressional history, the U.S. House passed a bill to raise the nation’s borrowing limit without any stipulations attached. It’s big news considering the recent history of Congress holding the limit and investors hostage as it debates whether to pay bills its already incurred.

The Washington Post had this story by Paul Kane, Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe:

The House passed a yearlong suspension of the Treasury’s debt limit Tuesday in a vote that left Republicans once again ceding control to Democrats, following a collapse in support for an earlier proposal advanced by GOP leaders.

In a narrow vote, 221-201, 28 Republicans voted with 193 Democrats to approve a “clean” extension of the federal government’s borrowing authority — one without strings attached — sending the legislation to the Senate for a possible final vote later this week. Two Democrats and 199 Republicans voted no.

The vote came two weeks before the Feb. 27 debt-limit deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and once again underscored the House leadership’s inability to corral Republicans behind a debt-ceiling plan. “The natural reluctance is obvious,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief deputy whip.

Conservative advocacy groups reacted negatively to Boehner’s plan to bring the clean bill to a vote, with spokesmen for Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth urging members to vote “no” and including the vote on their scorecards, which serve as guides for their supporters. “When we heard that House leadership was scheduling a clean debt-ceiling increase, we thought it was a joke,” said Barney Keller, a Club for Growth adviser. “But it’s not. Something is very wrong with House leadership, or with the Republican Party.”

The New York Times story by Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman pointed out that the move signaled more dissent within the Republican ranks:

Mr. Boehner stunned House Republicans Tuesday morning when he ditched a package that would have tied the debt ceiling increase to a repeal of cuts to military retirement pensions that had been approved in December and announced he would put a “clean” debt ceiling increase up for a vote.

Enough Republicans had balked at that package when it was presented Monday night to convince the speaker he had no choice but to turn to the Democratic minority. It was another startling display of Republican disunity, fueled by the political ambitions of members seeking higher office and personal animus that burst into the open.

For Mr. Boehner it was a potentially momentous decision. Anger among the nation’s most ardent conservatives at the House leadership may be at an apogee. The Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and conservative activists on the website are all circulating petitions to end Mr. Boehner’s speakership.

And it was Mr. Boehner who raised such high expectations around the debt limit. In 2011, he established what has become known as the “Boehner Rule”: any debt ceiling increase was supposed to be offset by an equivalent spending cut.

Kristina Peterson and Janet Hook wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Democrats celebrated the move:

Democrats welcomed the news that Republicans had withdrawn their policy demands on the debt ceiling as an example of how their party’s coordinated stance has lent them leverage over a divided GOP caucus.

“Democratic unity around responsible government and honoring our national debt has helped force the Republicans to be responsible on this issue,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D., Colo.).

Democrats propelled the bill through the chamber, with 193 Democrats and 28 Republicans voting for the debt-ceiling suspension. The measure was opposed by two Democrats and 199 Republicans.

Susan Davis had this background about the debt ceiling debate in USA Today:

However, after the partial government shutdown last October — which left the GOP politically bruised— Boehner and other GOP leaders pledged that Congress would not allow a debt default. Without any internal GOP consensus on how to proceed on the latest debt ceiling increase, Boehner had few options but to allow an up-or-down vote.

During Boehner’s tenure as speaker, congressional Republicans have waged battles over the debt limit under an informal rule advocated by the Ohio Republican that any increase in the debt limit should be met by equal or greater spending cuts or other savings. Tuesday’s vote abandoned that standard. “I am disappointed to say the least,” Boehner said.

Outside conservative and Tea Party groups — long at odds with the party establishment — ratcheted up their rhetoric opposing Boehner. The Senate Conservatives Fund circulated an online petition calling for Boehner to be replaced, while Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin said, “It is time for him to go.” Neither Boehner nor his office has responded to the opposition groups.

The speaker instead said the burden should be on Democrats to pass the debt limit hike because President Obama has refused to engage with the GOP over how to reduce the deficit. “(President Obama) is the one driving up the debt. Then the question (Republicans) are asking is, ‘Well, why should I deal with his debt limit?’ And so the fact is we’ll let the Democrats put the votes up,” he said.

While it might have surprised some political watchers that Boehner would back down from his previous stance, investors are likely to be happy about the news. At least the nation’s debt rating is secure for the next year, until after the 2014 elections.

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