Why Boehner gave in on debt ceiling vote
February 11th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
9 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. W.G.

    HAHAHAHA! Finally ! It´s the beginingof the end for tea partiers .

    February 12, 2014 06:20 am at 6:20 am |
  2. Marie MD

    Because he's missing a pair? Because he has allowed the teaklans to take over his party? Because he drinks? Because, oh heck, just fill in the blanks with anything that he has not done since 2009!

    February 12, 2014 06:22 am at 6:22 am |
  3. Jebbb

    The GOP took as its pathway to power reaching out to all the mean-spirited, fearful, uninformed racists, xenophobes, sexists, homophobes, bigots of all kinds, flat-earthers, know-nothings, science deniers, history deniers, reality deniers, paranoids and end-timers. Well, you got 'em. Congratulations. Please get them out of our Congress and our state legislatures. We're trying to deal with real issues and solve real problems with and for all kinds of real human beings, of various "races," ethnicities, national origins, cultures, generations, economic statuses and sexual preferences. Good government is tough even with smart people of good will in office. Not you.

    February 12, 2014 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  4. voice of reason

    He finally "gave in" by finally putting something up for vote on the floor? Has it really become so crazy in the house that when the speaker actually does his job – and actually allows the house to vote on a bill..... . It's because he gave in?! The bill needed majority vote – so the majority wanted it... but it's because this elected focus gave in.

    February 12, 2014 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  5. bobpitt

    Why Boehner gave up: The reason is simple, if the GOP had put the credit rating of the country in danger again, the next election would be a disaster for the GOP, but it will be a disaster anyway due to immigration reform.

    February 12, 2014 06:25 am at 6:25 am |
  6. hkirwin

    Republican are a stupid lot. Face it, Obama owns the left, they will follow in lock step with their fearless reader. Any attempts to block Obumbles spending will be met with obstruction allegations and not paying our bills rants. By voting with the Dims the Dims will say after the train wreck that Republicans voted for it also. What they should of done is just voted present. Let the Dims own their own debt without anyone else to blame.

    February 12, 2014 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  7. carre1

    Boehner gave in, because this is an election year and he didn't want any more negative publicity for the GOP. Period.

    February 12, 2014 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  8. steve hedrick

    Just bankrupt the country and get it over with. Our government has not yet and will never get the fact you can't keep spending money you don't have. Oh,lets raise the limit, raise the limit they shout, that's all they know how to fight for together. If its getting to blow more money then their good buddies short of that their like spoiled brat kids that don't get their way. But the real problem is us, the American people. We have allowed most of them to sit on capital hill the majority of their life and make their position a career move to retirement. There should a limit to how long a congressman or senator can hold a position. That way they can't get chummy with special interest groups, lobbyist and other groups buttering their campaign biscuit.

    February 12, 2014 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  9. Cindy

    I wish they had at least included knocking out the possible bailout for insurance companies. That is something most all Americans can agree on, NO BAILOUTS, ObamaCare will cost taxpayers enough as it already is and we have all had enough of taxpayer funded bailouts.

    February 12, 2014 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  10. CraigM

    "Zippitity Do Da"..........great!!! This says it all about all of our elected politicians in Washington, D.C. The GOP has once again caved into the irresponsibility of the Democratic Party of Barack Obama, the anti-Middle Class Nancy Pelosi, and the anti-American Harry Reid!!

    February 12, 2014 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  11. Ray Sanders

    Tea Party/Republicans demanded off setting spending cuts for extending unemployment insurance for the long term unemployed. Tea Party/Republicans did NOT demand offsetting spending cuts to extend some loopholes that corporations were using and were about to expire. Sounds fair to me.

    February 12, 2014 07:05 am at 7:05 am |
  12. William R. Hill

    This vote may indicate that the GOP's ultra conservative obstructionism (and the power of this wing of the party) is coming to an end. Despite what Boehner said, what he did was tell the radical conservatives to "stick it in your ear. We need to get back to doing our job."

    February 12, 2014 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  13. NATHAN WIMBERLY

    The Wall Street masters of the Guns Over People tea potty will NEVER let wingnut idiots mess with their money. Bumpkin wingnuts need to remember what Dick Chaney said. "Deficits don't matter".

    February 12, 2014 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  14. BD70

    Wait what? I thought congress set the spending. How could this debt be Obama's fault?

    February 12, 2014 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  15. Mark

    Does the fact that during the period in which the debt limit was "suspended" our congress (both sides) already blew past the previous debt limit by about 600B have anything to do with Boehner's decision to comply? Are we that stupid?

    February 12, 2014 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  16. humtake

    I think it's pretty easy. When a Dem is in office, we do it how the Dems want. When a Rep is in office, we do it how the Reps want. A few terms of each will easily show trend data that will clearly show which policies were better and which weren't. Unfortunately, people actually think that if something is done that doesn't agree with their opinion then America is going to be sucked into the water and the gates of hell are going to open up and swallow the entire country.

    February 12, 2014 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  17. george

    I will not vote for any republican that voted for this. As obandon says I can do anything I am the czar of America. The democrats want to ruin this country and cnn once again is playing along with this article. It was nice while it lasted.

    February 12, 2014 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  18. NameMatte

    Because, John Boehner is not a leader. That's the reality of this whole debacle of a congress.

    February 12, 2014 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  19. Anonymous

    It's mathematically impossible to default. The govt takes in enough money to pay both the necessary operations and most importantly the interest on the debt. The rest is just grandstanding and bad reporting

    February 12, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  20. Gurgyl

    -–deficit is cut to one half and this debt is from Iraq/Afghanistan War. GOP passed because the blockage of passage of budget is a total failure on the part of GOP which incurred 30 billion dollars by the mercy of "that male Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz", proved to hatred by entire educated America. So they had to pass. Elections, man, Elections. GOP does not give hoot to USA. Pathetic.

    February 12, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  21. Dean

    Speaker Boehner did what he had to do. Good for him. On the other hand, Obama's entire presidency has been an embarrassing setback for the country.

    February 12, 2014 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  22. Sukhi Mehta

    Both parties sold this country first by passing NAFTA and then H1B visa.

    February 12, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  23. chill

    Funny, but I thought the debt as driven up by more spending than tax income for the government and it is Congress that sets the spending and taxing policy. The President and Executive branch simply administers it. Guess maybe Boehner and company need to read that Constitution they are so fond of citing.

    February 12, 2014 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  24. JY

    Maybe this is a new trend!!!! Vote on all sorts of stuff without add-on items. let them go up/down on their own merits. that is a way to kill waste

    February 12, 2014 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  25. Lenoxus

    I'm sorry, this sounds far too sane. Whatever happened to Yohonomics? Either some strange entity is possessing the Republicans, or has recently let go of that possession. Whichever one it is, let hope it stays that way.

    February 12, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
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