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

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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. ja

    It's time quit pretending and stagnating America

    February 11, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  2. Liz the First

    Nice to see Mr. Boehner has finally realized who won the 2012 election. either that, or he got tired of throwing the country under a bus. the repugs' behavior last time was absolutely shameless. maybe they figured out they can't keep showing people how rotten they are.

    February 11, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  3. Neutral Observer

    Maybe that's why the dems love him...because with him running the show, Dems win the big elections and when there is a real fight, bone head folds up and rolls over.

    February 11, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  4. FrankinSD

    This is, of course, a victory for the President. But I don't buy the argument that it's a defeat for the Speaker. He let the loonies wear themselves out, holding them to a standard (218 votes) that he knew they could never meet. Then he, with feigned regret, gave in and did what he always had it in mind to do. Let the Democrats take responsibility for what all sane people knew needed to be done.

    February 11, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  5. Mike in Texas

    My take is Boehner and the Republicans don't want to screw anything in up in terms of shooting themselves in the foot. They will show signs of bi partisanship up until the elections in 2014. Their goal is to keep the house and take the Senate. If they do so watch the Republicans revert back to their old ways. Just like they did in 2010

    February 11, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  6. deee510

    Boehner is finally thinking. Quit letting these kids bully you and the rest of the country. We'll vote these idiots out in November for sure.

    February 11, 2014 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  7. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    The GOP is trying to salvage whatever vestige of sanity is left in the party. They held their noses and voted for it. It shouldn't have taken this long, but hey, progress is progress!

    February 11, 2014 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  8. dmf

    Speaker Boehner did make a historical , bold and courageous decision by calling for an up and down vote on the Debt ceiling increase ,with no string attached . If GOP majority caucus of 227 , 199 voted against the Debt ceiling increase in the House . The 199 were not responding to help U. S. economy coming out of worst economic recession in decades , with high rate of unemployment hovering around 7 percent and low economic growth around 2.0 – 2 .5 percent . Nevertheless , the House majority voted 221 – 201 to Debt ceiling increase . A vote not to succumb under pressures of 40 – 50 Right wing extremists Tea Party faction ? The GOP is incomplete disarray , and have disappointed , not only Speaker Boehner but the right minded Americans at large . Here is an opportunity for Speaker to follow his instincts , good judgment and open doors for immigration reforms and other important national issues , e. g. , job creation programs for 23 million people unemployed and under employed , debt and deficit reductions , entitlements' reform , fiscal policy , tax code and regulatory reforms for business investments , and declining middle class for last six years . Those
    only live who dare .

    February 11, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  9. Quixote

    Imagine if bohner had grown a pair three years ago, and instead of allowing the lunatic tea drunk extremists to tell him what to do he had allowed votes in the house on the array of common sense good legislation coming from Democrats......instead of his having secured the spot of worst speaker in history people would talk about a man of courage who did what was good for country before party.
    If you want the country to continue to function then vote Democrat in every race at every level,of government. We have to excise the tea tumor from our body politic before it does any more damage.

    February 11, 2014 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  10. paul

    It's amazing how the prospect of a looming election will bring some sanity to Congress.

    February 11, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  11. Thomas

    He wants to give Obama enough rope to hang himself .

    Fortunately , the GOP is down to a pair of shoelaces and a pack of chewing gum .

    Ted Cruz / Donald Trump
    Bad hair day 2016 , it's your choice !

    February 11, 2014 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  12. RTEXAN

    Let's be truthful.... 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 Obama--. Get control of the US Senate so we can impeach the President!!!!

    February 11, 2014 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  13. JohnRJohnson

    Boehner made several offers to his caucus that would have attached something they wanted to the debt ceiling bill, including approval of the Keystone pipeline. His caucus, which is populated with idiots and morons, refused everything Boehner offered them. They were hellbent on not raising the debt ceiling, regardless of the consequences to the nation. So, in a show or rare retaliation against the crazies in his caucus, Boehner said, "OK. You asked for it. I'm allowing an up or down vote on the bill with no riders". This proves, once and for all, just how stupid the Tea Partyers in the House really are.

    February 11, 2014 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  14. 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.

    February 11, 2014 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  15. adhocal

    Zip a dee doo dah, zip a dee-ay....won't we all be happy when repubs no longer have any say?

    February 11, 2014 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  16. Winning

    Budget is not balanced and requires borrowing to pay for the spending. Budget passes with a majority of Republican support. GOP and their sheep followers blame Obama for adding to the debt.

    Get rid of these GOP psychopaths come 2014, enough is enough.

    February 11, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  17. underwaterops

    So, congress did its job for once, and this is the headline? Shame on you, CNN!
    Proper headline, "Congress does its job. Nobody notices!"

    February 11, 2014 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  18. korkea aika

    What's wrong with these people? The congress passes laws and spend the money. And then they provide themselves with cover by not voting to fund the laws they have passed. We are still paying $2 trillion dollars for "Mission Accomplished" that could eat Obamacare for Breakfast, and "Weapons of mass destruction" that could gobble down 2 Obamacares for lunch. This is so pathetic. Vote for Hillary in 2016. She may spend money, but at least it will be on us.

    February 11, 2014 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  19. korkea aika

    republicans are so behind they finally realised they lost the election in 2012

    February 11, 2014 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  20. luvUamerica

    Three words that did it.... "Mid Term Elections"

    February 11, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  21. Democrats are pathetic

    Congress has not passed a budget due to both parties not agreeing. All I know, this president has put us in a horrible position. We are sad and broke with the middle class suffering and the democrats pandering to the lazy. Socialism at its best. The lazy don't care that the democrats are basically telling them that they are too s*t*u*p*i*d to survive on their own. They don't care because if you can live off those of us whom work hard, why not? Right? Pitiful and embarrassing for all!

    February 11, 2014 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  22. plain and simple

    There is no republican party in the house anymore. Only a group of renegades hungry for power and personal wealth. Anyone running on a less goverment ticket is really a no government supporter. Look at these last few years and tell me how no government or less goverment is better? Look at our bridges,dams,power grids. Look at our public transportation. Our water ways,our drinking water....West Virginia. Figure it out people! A functional government is a key to prosperity. Education for all only benefits us ALL.

    February 11, 2014 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  23. roosevel rugless

    ....to make a long story short...OBAMA kicked butt AGAIN.

    February 11, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  24. scootfl78

    The average American family pays $6,000 a year to corporate (big business) subsidies, taken from us by John Boehner and just about every other Republican in Congress. If your family brings home more than $72,000 a year, you're paying more. And if that money doesn't go out of your taxes (which it wouldn't if you're a lower income family), then it's being paid on the national deficit. Next time you hear a Republican complaining about the national debt, tell them to stop paying BILLIONS of dollars a year to companies that do not use those subsidies to hire new workers or improve the American infrastructure. Republicans would rather take food away from babies and families than stand up to big business. If you call the offices of Boehner and other Republican politicians and ask them about this, their office will do what Republicans do best...lie and claim that companies are using that money to hire. If you look at the jobs report, you know that what Boehner and others say is a complete lie. Search the internet for the study for yourself. It's been re-studied over and over and its always thousands of dollars (going up each year) that we're paying for these subsidies.

    February 11, 2014 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |

    oh well, it is what it is not?

    February 11, 2014 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
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