Boehner To Bring Clean Debt Ceiling Bill To Vote In House
When the House and Senate finally resolved the shutdown crisis in October of last year, both of the major issues that were pending in Congress at the time, the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget and the debt ceiling, were essentially delayed until early this year in the hope that Congress would find a way to deal with them without sending us into another showdown. With respect to the budget, Republicans and Democrats pretty much succeeded in that regard. The co-chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, unveiled a Budget Plan by the deadline that Congress had set in October and both Houses of Congress passed the plan with almost no serious objection before adjourning for the Christmas recess. Then, last month, the two Appropriations Committee came up with the bills necessary to actually fund the government through the end of the Fiscal Year in September, a bill that also passed both Houses of Congress easily with a minimum of dissent. The final issue left unresolved from October is the debt ceiling. In that area, Congress had raised the debt ceiling by an amount that most observers at the time estimated would be sufficient to last until mid-February depending on actual U.S. borrowing needs.
Last week, the debt ceiling issue reentered the public consciousness when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said that the debt ceiling would be need to be raised by February 27th. Thus, the issue is back on the front burner and the big question in Washington is how the House will deal with the issue. In the past, of course, Republicans have attempted to use the debt ceiling to get policy concessions or budget cuts from the Democrats to the point that they proceeded on more than one occasion to take the nation to the very brink of default before making a deal, something that happened in both October 2013 and July/August 2011. Today, we learned, much to the surprise of many Capitol Hill observers, that Speaker John Boehner intends to bring to the floor of the House a bill to extend the debt ceiling with no policy riders of any kind:
WASHINGTON — Facing a rebellion over his latest debt ceiling proposal, Speaker John A. Boehner has told House Republicabis that he will bring legislation to a vote on Wednesday that would raise the government’s borrowing authority with no strings attached.
“House Republican leaders told members this morning that it is clear the paid-for military COLA provision will not attract enough support, so we will be bringing up a ‘clean’ debt limit bill tomorrow,” a Republican official said. “Boehner made clear the G.O.P. would provide the requisite number of Republican votes for the measure but that Democrats will be expected to carry the vote.”
On Monday night, Mr. Boehner laid out a plan to link the debt ceiling increase to legislation that would have reversed a cut to veteran retirement benefits. But conservative Republicans opposed the plan, and Republican leaders worried that Democrats would not go along, holding firm to President Obama’s demand that no policy attachments come with a debt ceiling increase.
On Tuesday, the speaker gave up, a dramatic gesture for a leader who once declared the “Boehner Rule,” which holds that any debt ceiling increase should be attached to spending cuts of equal size. A House Republican who was in the room for the speaker’s announcement described the response as “stunned silence.”
On paper, it sounds like Boehner and the House GOP Leadership pretty have given up on trying to get the conservative wing of their caucus to agree on any type of debt ceiling increase, violate the non-existent “Hastert Rule,” and let a debt ceiling increase pass even if it means they have to rely almost totally on the votes of House Democrats to get it passed. It’s a politically risky move on their part, obviously, because it leaves them, and specifically Boehner, open to a leadership challenge at some point in the future, but one can easily understand their frustration. Leaving aside the question of how Democrats would have reacted to it, the idea of linking the debt ceiling increase to restoration of veterans retirement benefits seems like it should have been one that conservative Republicans would have backed enthusiastically. Indeed, it might have even been a fight that the GOP could have won. After all, who is going to really take a stand against veterans retirement benefits?
In any event, it remains an open question how this vote will turn out. Capitol Hill Reporters on Twitter are quoting Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer as saying that there will be at least 180 Democratic votes for a clean debt ceiling increase. If that’s the case, then Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy will only need about 40 Republicans to vote for the bill to pass. No doubt, however, they’d like to see far more Republican support and will spend the better part of the next 24 or so hours trying to whip votes to their side. So, while it seems likely that a debt ceiling increase will pass easily, the real question will be how many Republican votes there are and what that means for Boehner’s future.
On a broader point, though, this seems to be a sign that the House Leadership is through coddling the Tea Party after the disaster that was the October 2013 shutdown. What that means for the future remains to be seen.