Why Boehner gave in on debt ceiling vote
February 11th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
10 months ago

Why Boehner gave in on debt ceiling vote

Washington (CNN) - House Speaker John Boehner threw in the towel on Tuesday.

After multiple attempts to lead his members to force some sort of concession in return for raising the nation’s debt limit, Boehner allowed a vote on a so-called “clean” debt limit increase that passed by a 221-201 margin before the House left town until the end of the month.

The Speaker and just 27 other House Republicans joined 193 House Democrats to pass the bill. One hundred and ninety nine House GOP members opposed the measure, including some members of the Speaker’s own leadership team and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

It was the latest in long series of Boehner being stymied by House conservatives, but this time there was a significant difference - there was little political brinksmanship.

After last fall's government shutdown that caused Republican poll numbers to plummet, Boehner and most House GOP members agreed they didn't want to set up a major confrontation on the debt bill. Instead, they decided to push for some modest concessions. But many conservatives resisted even that limited strategy, arguing they didn’t want to fight for a plan that would eventually be rejected by Senate Democrats. Others felt the House GOP should attach at least one condition to the bill. So Boehner and other House Republicans spent the last couple of weeks floating a series of targeted proposals they hoped could get enough support to pass.

But roughly 16 hours after presenting his last effort – a bill that tied the debt limit increase to a provision reversing cuts in military pensions – it was clear Boehner and other top GOP leaders didn’t have the votes so they abandoned that proposal.

Boehner told reporters early Tuesday that his narrowly crafted proposal wouldn’t get 218 votes - enough Republicans to pass without Democratic votes – and said flatly, "When you don't have 218 votes, you have nothing."

Referencing previous times when his own members prevented him from moving legislation, Boehner added, "We've seen that before, we see it again."

The Speaker made it clear publicly and privately in the last couple of months that he wasn’t going to allow a default, but he also told his members if they wanted to demand any condition for raising the debt ceiling they needed to unite behind it. But as has been the case on issue after issue, he couldn’t get his members on the same page on a strategy.

Even though Boehner didn’t get support from the vast majority of House conservatives he did manage to demonstrate to some of his members that the debt ceiling isn’t an issue the party should turn into a major war right before the deadline. Many conservatives, who just a couple of years ago publicly questioned whether it was even necessary to raise the debt ceiling, now acknowledge Congress did need to grant Treasury the borrowing authority and move on to debate other issues.

Louisiana Republican Rep. John Fleming told CNN that Boehner and other leaders were "not even close" to getting sufficient support to move forward with their plan on Tuesday morning. But he said the decision to press the Democrats to pass the bill allows his party to "move on" and return to their focus on Obamacare.

Boehner argued "it’s the President's debt" and tried to place the burden on House Democrats to avoid a default.

"He's the one driving up the debt and the question they're [House Republicans] asking is why should I deal with his debt limit? And so the fact is we'll let the Democrats put the votes up. We'll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed," Boehner told reporters after a closed door meeting with House Republicans.

Hours before the vote House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday it was "pathetic" that the Speaker was only committing to getting the low number of GOP votes to pass the measure.

Until recent years, votes to raise the nation's borrowing authority - which covers the debt accumulated by previous congressional spending measures - did not come this close to the deadline or involve heavy lifting. But since President Barack Obama was elected and Republicans took control of the House in 2010, a solid block of conservatives has vowed to oppose any measure to raise the debt ceiling unless it also cuts spending.

The Speaker instituted "the Boehner Rule" that stated any bill to raise the debt limit had to be linked to package of cuts and reforms greater than the increase.

While Boehner attempted to place the responsibility for raising the debt limit on the President, the reality is that pushback from many House conservatives - which has regularly been an issue for Boehner – again hampered his efforts.

Despite the embarrassing setback of having yet another proposal of his pulled at the last minute, Boehner didn't seem fazed by the development. He walked out of the House GOP leadership's press conference Tuesday morning singing an upbeat verse from the song "Zippidity Do Da."

CNN’s Paul Courson contributed to this report.


Filed under: House Republicans • John Boehner • national debt
soundoff (291 Responses)
  1. Person

    Of course the far right didn't want more brinksmanship. There's an election coming up and they've discovered that their antics make them look bad. The brinksmanship will return (along with their customary beating up on the poor and select minority groups) as soon as they think they can use it again to manipulate the mainstream GOP.

    February 11, 2014 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  2. Jimmy Joe Bob

    Republicans hurt the country and hurt themselves with their government shutdown and default fiascos.

    Have they finally learned their lesson or will they keep behaving like children?

    February 11, 2014 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  3. carlos

     Stick a couple hundred parrots into Congress to replace GOP members and train them to repeat a handful of words and phrases like "Socialist!" and "Benghazi!" and no one would notice the difference. And Congress would still be just as effective at what it does, but it'd be a lot cheaper. Birdseed and fruit are a lot cheaper than champagne and lobster dinners.

    February 11, 2014 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  4. John

    Boehner was lectured by a constituent to read the Constitution specifically 14th Amendment, Section 4 "The US public debt shall not be questioned". Can't fool an informed public anymore.

    February 11, 2014 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  5. Ron

    The Republicans are really smart on this. Almost 200 of them voted against raising the debt ceiling while at the same time they diverted another bad rap for putting the country into another crisis. In other words, as a party, they have basically satisfied their right wing base and have avoided being blamed for another shut down.

    February 11, 2014 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  6. sbeew

    i cant wait until boehner zip-a-dee-doo-das out of the speakership

    February 11, 2014 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  7. booboo

    Looks like the republicans did something right for a change. Let's see if they can act like adults from now on.
    President Obama is trying to do what he said he would, these republican turkeys are babies.What a disgrace! !
    Obama rules!

    February 11, 2014 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  8. Ahmed

    Republicans reaching for their personal best: letting the government pay its bills for once without creating a hostage situation.

    February 12, 2014 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  9. bspurloc

    Boehner ALLOWED a vote on the bill.
    but when Boehner DOESNT ALLOW a bill to come to vote, its obamas fault.

    ergo he needs to thank Obama now.

    February 12, 2014 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  10. Jim

    It would have been easy to get a concession. Just cut everything 3% to 5% including congressional salaries. With interest rates going up the debt will become a major focus in two years as trillion dollar deficits will again be a yearly fixture in our budget.

    February 12, 2014 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  11. VVVVV

    All they ever get out of budget deals is tax raises anyway. The budget cuts disappear in a matter of months, if not sooner.

    February 12, 2014 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  12. Ron

    I've been trying to pronounce "zippidity" for the last 4 minutes.
    Sounds like a state of being you might find yourself in. Or maybe a chronic condition among Disney imagineers.

    February 12, 2014 01:31 am at 1:31 am |
  13. Andrew

    Nobody wants to hear about anymore republican heroes trying to appease a minuscule bunch of tea party hacks. We've bigger fish to fry.

    February 12, 2014 02:00 am at 2:00 am |
  14. me

    This so called Tea Party is the kind of oppression our ancestors fled England to escape!!

    February 12, 2014 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  15. jewoodbur

    It is clearly time for the weeper to go...

    February 12, 2014 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  16. Luigi

    Wear the Boner down. Too much bourbon will getcha every time. HAHAHA

    February 12, 2014 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  17. Getoverit

    "This wretched Constitution thingy keeps getting in my way. Who wrote this thing?"

    -Barack Obama

    February 12, 2014 02:53 am at 2:53 am |
  18. king

    Because he had nothing left to cut from out of tbe economy. The repubs have been cutting the hell out of the speders pocket dragging down mainstream progress as they pour money to their rich friends to invest in China.its about time mainstream was left with a little money to spend in our neighborhood to create jobs I am tired of seeing our money cut away just to build up other countries while our country rots away back into the middle ages.it's a dam shame to see every other country modernize their infrastructures and watch the repubs uses fox news and their minions to fool the people,that infrastructure decay is the way to go.

    February 12, 2014 03:22 am at 3:22 am |
  19. scallywag151

    How to create a social state by Saul Alinsky
    There are 8 levels of control that must be obtained before you are able to create a social state. The first is the most important.

    1) Healthcare – Control healthcare and you control the people
    2) Poverty – Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.
    3) Debt – Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.
    4) Gun Control – Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state.
    5) Welfare – Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income)
    6) Education – Take control of what people read and listen to – take control of what children learn in school.
    7) Religion – Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools
    8) Class Warfare – Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.

    February 12, 2014 03:26 am at 3:26 am |
  20. Craig

    The real issue was that the GOP couldn't even agree on what they wanted to extract as ransom. That's what happens when the party has no policies, no plans, and no ideas. They are running purely upon the basis of "anything the President wants we need to oppose." Until they complete this implosion, there is nothing they can do that will result in anything positive.

    February 12, 2014 03:59 am at 3:59 am |
  21. Brian in TX

    It's pretty simple, IMHO, if they pushed the President this time the public would definitely blame them for the ensuing chaos and as this is an election year they want to try and maintain what little edge they have in hopes of taking back the Senate.

    February 12, 2014 04:06 am at 4:06 am |
  22. Max

    he only did it because it's an election year. still not going to work out for him. democrats will control the house after november

    February 12, 2014 05:23 am at 5:23 am |
  23. WannaMontana

    This one is on the American people. Why? Because the reality is that the American people are not getting behind being financially responsible. The reality is that as a people, we are not expecting the other part of leadership to line up and stop spending on the national credit card. Boehner cannot fight the majority, if the majority leadership is not pressured to step up.

    February 12, 2014 05:39 am at 5:39 am |
  24. Michael MN

    Because he couldn't get his kindergarten class to all want the same thing

    February 12, 2014 05:56 am at 5:56 am |
  25. FamilyDoc2

    Zippity do da? From the now-considered-African-American stereotype movie "Song of the South"? Is there a subtle message to racists there?

    February 12, 2014 06:17 am at 6:17 am |
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