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. floyd from illinois

    Worst.

    Speaker.

    Ever.

    Can't even keep his own caucus, let alone the House as a whole, under control.

    February 12, 2014 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  2. Roy

    Simple answer elections are coming this year.

    February 12, 2014 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  3. Parker

    Boehner left the conference singing ..... Yeah he was real happy, Once again the Teapublicans are elated by someone actually doing their job. Raising the debt ceiling is a no brainer. It's called paying your bills. When congress acts or fails to act, (see Teapublican efforts) the US spends more than it takes in. Of course the fact that all industrialized nations spend more than they take in is lost on certain politicians (see Teapublicans). So, let's all pat ourselves on the back for actually allowing the government pay the bills that our esteemed politicians have created by their astute legislation that cut taxes on those who can afford to pay while cutting services to those who can't afford to pay. What a crock! Let us remember that when a Republican was president, (see both Bush presidents) the Teapublicans raised the debt ceiling with no problem, with both speed and regularity. Oh, and by the way, all this debt ceiling drama is not because the president is black. Ok, and I got some ocean front property in Arizona I want to sell off.

    February 12, 2014 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  4. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    The GOP party of stupid still pushing their hide BEHIND ANTI HEALTHCRE AGENDA while they continue their stupid DO NOTHING FOR AMERiCA UNTIL AFTER 2016. Sorry GOP party of stupid , we voters don't plan on waiting that long.pack your bags and vote for the unemployment extension and raise the minimum wage because your going to need it after November!!!!!

    February 12, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  5. Al-NY,NY

    Louisiana Republican Rep. John Fleming said the decision to press the Democrats to pass the bill allows his party to "move on" and return to their focus on Obamacare.
    ----–

    Sooo.........when is the next "repeal" vote gonna come to the floor? Maybe a new restrictive abortion idea? Gay marriage ban?..Oh wait. I know...a new proposal that suggests Obama is not a citizen? These pathetic losers will never learn

    February 12, 2014 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  6. Joi Gibson

    Hey Mr. Speaker – why don't you accept responsibility for your irresponsible caucus and stop trying to blame the President because the Tea Party members of your caucus are off the rails. And by the way – you all are adjourning until the end of the month – must be nice to only work 10 days out of every month and still get paid a full-time salary and yet you and your buddy Mr. Ryan complain that the ACA creates an incentive for part-time work. Look in the mirror!!!!

    February 12, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  7. Fish

    Hopefully Boehner just knew it was the right thing to do. America is suffering in more ways then one and to prolong the bickering, threats and arguing is achieving absolutely nothing. It's time to get our nation moving again, we need to rebuild our economy, our democracy and our government. Instead of bickering over spending we should be working upon tax reform, immigration reform, election reform, Budget reform, etc... we have no choice but to end the war and balance our budget immediately and public financing of campaigns would solve a multitude of issues!!!

    February 12, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @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.

    Don't forget tax payer funded healthcare for life, that they don't want anyone else to have!

    February 12, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  9. John

    It's not President Obama Dept, Congress pass all bill and budget. Raising the dept limit Is to pay for bill Congress all ready pass. The republican don't even take credit for what they cause.

    February 12, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  10. Frank

    Why not give in? They fought ObamaCare until the Democrats shut down the Government rather than give in, then blamed it on the Republicans....until everyone realized what a mess ObamaCare really is. We learned....the best way to damage the credibility of the Democrats is to let them have their way and show the people how misguided their logic is.

    February 12, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  11. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @MichaelE
    Congress can and should defund the IRS, THE DOJ, The NSA and ICE. Each of these agencies should be put on a probationary period of two years where each month they must prove that they are , in fact, doing what they are mandated to do . They should be required to bring the important cases and issues that they are working on before congressional review and they must prove that they are performing the task they are required to perform.

    Not a bad proposal in theory... BUT, you would trust THIS Congress to oversee these agencies? They can't even do what they are constitutionally obligated to do!

    February 12, 2014 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  12. American

    Massively increasing the debt is the only responsible thing to do. If you don't have hyperinflation yet you obviously have not been printing enough money responsibly. The good and noble thing to do is to collapse the system and make people suffer greatly through massive debt.

    February 12, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  13. tom l

    To me, it really seems like the dems are just a bunch of bullies. They talk about Christie yet don't see how much they bully people (i.e. "elections have consequences" – that is something a bully would say). Every single one of their actions for every topic is handled the same way. Just read the boards here and you can get a whiff of the arrogance.

    February 12, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  14. tom l

    Rudy,
    The only one that is just saying "no" is the President.

    February 12, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  15. CJ

    I am no fan of the Republican House, or the Democratic Senate but Obama has been a total disaster. Boehner may not have done much right, but this was a great move. He knows that if Republicans can avoid any boneheaded moves (a big if) that they are likely to take the Senate and increase the margin in the House. Then all Obama will have left is the "pen and the phone". Clearly that strategy is not popular with the majority of the public so he just might hand the presidency to the Republicans too.

    February 12, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  16. Jason

    The greatest event in the financial world in the past 1,000 years is about to take place. Two hundred and four nations have agreed with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to reset their currency. Christine Lagarde is the new financial head of the IMF. If she and the Elite have their way, this event will take place in early March after a possible U.S. default to be used as the pretense for this earth shattering event.

    February 12, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  17. dean

    He's giving Obama and the dems rope. But now both parties are guilty of robbing from our grand kids.

    February 12, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  18. Rosslaw

    It can be so difficult when dealing with economic illiterates. The debt ceiling is to deal with EXISTING obligations created by....hold on now....the U.S. Congress in its appropriations. Poor Rep. Fleming and his fellow flat-earthers might be stunned to discover that THEY have caused the debt to increase 1.5 TRILLION by funding disasters like the F-35 fighter bomber which can barely fly and which the Republicans forced on an unwilling Pentagon.

    February 12, 2014 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  19. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay. My, oh my, what a wonderful day. Plenty of sunshine headin' my way."

    Patting yourself on the back Johnny boy? Your teatard caucus is going to crucify you for this.

    February 12, 2014 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  20. Thaddeus

    Republican­s claimed that the election was about jobs, jobs, jobs.

    So what jobs have the Republican­s created except for getting jobs for themselves in the Congress?

    Ask this simple question. who do you support, the USA or the GOP....?

    When it comes time to vote, you will know what to do!

    February 12, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  21. M Gonzales in NM

    Nothing surprising here. The Democrats were just drooling at the prospect of another shutdown but Holder cut them off on this one. He becomes the lighting rod taking the flak while most of the GOP can now go home and say they voted against the debt cieling while at the same time avoiding another shutdown that would only help the Democrats. Just politics here folks nothing to see, move along.

    February 12, 2014 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  22. M Gonzales in NM

    Nothing surprising here. The Democrats were just drooling at the prospect of another shutdown but Boehner cut them off on this one. He becomes the lighting rod taking the flak while most of the GOP can now go home and say they voted against the debt cieling while at the same time avoiding another shutdown that would only help the Democrats. Just politics here folks nothing to see, move along Fake Edit: typo'd on another post, not holder.

    February 12, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  23. Lynda/Minnesota

    From the article:

    "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.

    and

    "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."

    There is no comment worthy of Mr. Boehner's ... ummm ... unwillingness to do right by "we the little people". This man has absolutely scammed Americans every which way he can for the past 6 years, including those in his own caucus.

    February 12, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  24. musclecarhound

    First of all. GOP CAVES GOP CAVES GOP CAVES – we knew they would. They are all cowards. They don't even pretend to believe the crap they spew daily. Secondly, the good news for the country is the GOP won't be able to downgrade our debt again. Lastly, this is great news for the Dems because it's one more reason the far right lunatics will want to run a third-party candidate and that bagger, whoever it is, will steal votes from the GOP candidate making another Clinton Presidency a sure bet. Thanks righties – we appreciate your help.

    February 12, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  25. ialsoagree

    How can the debt be the responsibility of the President, when it is constitutional law that ALL spending must originate in the House of Representatives.

    Only the House can pass a budget. That's written into the constitution.

    February 12, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
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