28 out of 232 House Republicans vote for clean debt limit bill
Current Speaker of the House John Boehner pushed through a clean debt limit bill on Tuesday that gives the White House unlimited borrowing power for the next year. Only 28 Republicans - mostly allies of Boehner - voted for the bill while 199 Republicans opposed it.
I say current speaker because a revolt by GOP back benchers is a real possibility. Several prominent conservatives like Mark Levin and Sean Hannity have already called for the speaker's head while the Senate Conservative Fund has also urged Boehner's removal.
The thinking of the GOP leadership is that fiscal fights have become a loser for Republicans and in order to take advantage of the unpopularity of Obamacare, the party must keep the focus on the health care law in order to win big in November.
GOP "yes" votes included Boehner and his top lieutenants, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.). House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) voted "no."
The bill suspends the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015, which will allow the government to continue borrowing above the current $17.2 trillion cap. After the suspension ends, the new debt ceiling would equal the amount of debt the government has racked up by then.
House passage sends the bill to the Senate. The upper chamber is expected to approve the bill Wednesday, again on the strength of Democratic support, but also with the support of some Republicans.
The House vote was as surreal for Republicans as it was hastily organized.
House Republicans have spent most of the past three years fighting for spending cuts, but their leaders on Tuesday bowed on a bill that raises the debt ceiling without cutting any spending.
The day began with Boehner and GOP leaders abandoning a plan revealed Monday that would have tied the reversal of an unpopular military pensions cut to the debt ceiling bill.
After rank-and-file members rejected that measure and Boehner determined it could not pass, the Speaker surrendered to a clean debt-ceiling hike.
Leadership quickly scheduled the vote for Tuesday and sped through a floor process to finish it, approving the rule governing proceedings by voice vote.
Boehner said Tuesday he had little choice but to cave to President Obama's wishes for a clean bill.
"We don't have 218 votes, and when you don't have 218 votes, you have nothing," he told reporters.
While Republicans won a battle in 2011 that led to billions of dollars in spending cuts, Democrats and the Obama administration have refused to negotiate further on funding reductions.
October's 16-day government shutdown resulted in plummeting House GOP poll numbers, and Boehner and his leadership team didn't want to risk another showdown in an election year where the party has real hopes of winning back the Senate. Boehner is also confident his party will keep the House.
The Speaker's decision drew heavy criticism from conservative groups. A number noted that the so-called "Boehner rule" now appears dead - that was the informal name for the Speaker's effort to extract spending cuts in exchange for debt-ceiling hikes.
In their rush to get the debt limit bill through, the House leadership didn't even bother to put a statutory limit on how much in debt the White House will be allowed to pile up. Boehner has handed the president a blank check - one of the most irresponsible acts in the name of politics I can recall.
A challenge to Boehner's leadership doesn't have much chance of success. Besides, if Boehner falls, his likely replacement - Eric Cantor - wouldn't be much better. If conservatives want to sack the speaker, it might be better to wait until the House organizes itself next year when there will probably be more conservatives in the chamber.
What is truly sad is that the Republicans had a golden opportunity to force the Democrats into taking uncomfortable political positions on any number of issues; Obamacare, the pipeline, military pensions. The debt limit bill that eventually would have passed might have been clean, but it would have placed Democrats in the position of voting against popular issues.