Why Boehner gave in on debt ceiling vote
February 11th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
8 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. I can do whatever I want! :-(

    The answer is simple – Obama and his fellow Democrats are drilling holes in the their own boat, and their agenda is starting to go "stern up".

    February 12, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  2. Walter

    Few politicians care about the debt ceiling in particular, or debt in general. They'll all be dead by the time this country goes bankrupt, and for now they can keep getting re-elected promising goodies "for free" to their constituents.

    February 12, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  3. 40acres

    Does anyone see a problem with these two sentences....or maybe in the man that they are about?

    >>>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.<<>>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.<<<

    February 12, 2014 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Boehner knew that is the debt ceiling was raised this week, we would have defaulted at the end of this month. He knew the democrats nor the President were playing the hostage game no more. If we defaulted, it would have solely been on republicans in an election year.

    February 12, 2014 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  5. amarjeet

    It is ok but debt must be reduced and be only productive for productive projects not just waste. National credibility must not suffer ever.

    February 12, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  6. Norma Vessels

    Good going, Mr Boehner. Now, you and your Republican friends in Congress, can go on the road with your campaigning, and be able to brag about all the Bills you've passed. Now, you have the Farm Bill, too .. but, we won't think about the huge cut in food stamps that you all tacked on to the Farm Bill. No need to mention that when bragging to your voters. They won't remember, anyway. Yep, always good to act nice during this election year. Makes everyone forget the past five years when you did nothing but obstruct.

    February 12, 2014 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  7. iceload

    Boehner wasn't going to deal with Wall St because of the t-pots again. Instead of the dems seizing this point by congratulating Boehner and try to open communication, they sit gloating like the idiots they are.

    February 12, 2014 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  8. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    While the GOP party of stupid continues to RUN AGAINEST healthcare for all Americans , the REAL ISSUE is the goverment shutdown and the lack o f the GOP doing anything about the economy FOR FIVE yEARS while having control of the house and the persee strings and obstructing every the dems do to improve the economy and the idiots are convinced that they will win in November HIDING BEHIND HEALTHCARE and WASTING most of their terms in FAILURE with 45 repeal healthcare votes at 1.5million dallars each. Then the GOP fools lost OVER 24 BILLION D O LLARS in their shutdown FAILURE. Why would even their GOP braindead voters vote to continue with FAILURE of their GOP STUPID AGENDA??????the house will be in dem hands after November because of GOP continued INCOMPETENCE!!!!!!!

    February 12, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  9. vic , nashville ,tn

    It shows house have 221 votes to pass the immigration reform then pass the senate bill

    February 12, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  10. Winston5

    Oh, gosh, what has become of 'The Boehner Rule' ?? (tee-hee)

    February 12, 2014 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  11. Timothy

    It's not the presidents debt, it's the peoples debt, the president will never have tax hikes or loss of hours to pay for this debt that the people did not create.

    February 12, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  12. John Smith

    I'll make it easier.

    It's an election year.

    February 12, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  13. Steve

    Hooray! Now we can borrow even more money so Wall Street can make billions more, people who refuse to work can sit at home and we can excise ever larger sums of taxes from us evil people who went to college, took risks, borrowed and repaid business loans and had the stupidity to make over $250,000 per year. God forbid Bill, Warren, George or other billionaires paid fair tax. Nope, we go after doctors and other stupid idiots dumb enough to take unlimited liability to get paid zero to operate on non-workers for free.

    February 12, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  14. xray vision

    Zippity aye. Tell me again how Obama's destroying our country. Let's give more money ( tax cuts) to the rich, the gop says that's the only way I can get rich, but don't we already have record inequality? How does sending more money to the top 1% going to help the rest of us again, oh that's right, if we give them enough, they will give it all back, my bad, I forgot how that works . And these are the people that think I'm stupid, continue.

    February 12, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  15. Swedge70

    "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."
    If only that had always been a consideration, we wouldn't have 40+ asinine votes to try and repeal the ACA. Maybe they could have actually gotten something done in that time instead of wasting their time and our money.

    February 12, 2014 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  16. Juan in El Paso

    Because he knows it is an issue for 2014 elections. However, which side is the question? GOP will point to the spending by the dems and that right now is a very powerful thiing.

    February 12, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  17. dave

    Debt is a many faceted item, somewhat complicated. Basically we have debt because worker' paychecks are too small, as revenue intake is a factor of how much money people make that they are taxed on. As people's incomes decline debt becomes a bigger item. Factor in several other factors, like prices keep rising, you have recessions, and wars, you get to a big problem. Republicans can't look at debt realistically, their extremism gets in the way, they only see things from the "starve the beast"angle. They drive up bad debt, then want all the things they don't like cut or eliminated. It's like the post office, nothing wrong with it, just that republicans made laws that make it look bad, more of their duping tactic They want to desroy the PO because its unionized .

    February 12, 2014 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  18. Zach

    Too bad he caved on this disaster, but it does prove that there is only one party that is willing to compromise. The Democrats refuse to negotiate, and the Republicans quietly compromise to get the job done.

    February 12, 2014 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  19. LDH2O

    "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. – SO let's see, first Republicans negotiate acceptable spending and spending limits THEN when it's time to pay the bill they agreed to take on they want to negotiate to pay it. How is this not theft? Does someone go into a restaurant, eat a meal then expect to negotiate the price or default on the meal bill?

    February 12, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  20. Rudy NYC

    Boehner can make up and spin all of the excuses that he wants. The problem is that he's a weak Speaker because of the "just say no" culture within the Republican House caucus.

    February 12, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  21. CosmicC

    Fairly significant news, but CNN buried it.

    February 12, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  22. IvoteDemocrat

    It is an election year, that is the ONLY reason he allowed this vote. After the elections this year the GOPaggers will be back up to their usual antics until 2016 rolls around.

    February 12, 2014 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  23. Adam Smith

    Strange how fiscal responsibility is met with such criticism. Democrats think they can spend their way to an economic recovery. More spending, more taxes and more regulation. It has proven to be a disasterous failure but sadly, their tactical damnation of anyone who suggests a different method is overwhelming. The media is in on it and the majority have been brainwashed. This is going to get ugly.

    February 12, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  24. ShawnDH

    Most Republicans STILL voted to DEFAULT which would be a worldwide catastrophe for no reason at all. They are terrorists and far more dangerous to our country than al Qaeda ever was.

    February 12, 2014 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  25. Guest

    I think he wanted to pass something, anything, regardless of what it was just so folks would not make fun of him or be furious at him and his party again – this is getting very close to the 2014 elections, no way could they campaign with the same debt ceiling baggage they had last year. Eat crow johnnyboy, no one deserves the big bird more than you do!

    February 12, 2014 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
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