Why Boehner gave in on debt ceiling vote
February 11th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
7 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. Dennis Fitzpatrick

    The vote on the debt ceiling shows if the Republicans were in charge of our government they would defauot on our debts. They ran up the debts in their time in power, now become deficit hawks, and hold hostage our government. Time to call them on obstruction of government and Americans should realize they would default on debts they ran up and cause much harm to our country.
    Congressional Budget office has said Immigration Bill would add million or more jobs, reduce debt and help our country They refuse to have a vote.and have not done one jobs bill in last 6 years....Time to take our government back as they say.

    February 12, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  2. jerome

    Because he's still a Democrat at heart.

    February 12, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  3. Pointless1

    Keep borrowing what you don't have at the expense of the future generations. Great concept.

    February 12, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  4. DazzyW

    So the dems whine and fail to pass a bill conserving the countries economic future, but instead pass a bill that keeps us doing the same thing we've always done but expect different results (we all know what that's called), then go on a 7 week vacation.

    Seems about right...

    February 12, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  5. dreamer2027

    John Boehner did the right thing, though for the wrong reason. I look wistfully towards the time when the Speaker of the House would lead the entire House and not just his or her own party. Perhaps if Mr. Boehner would work in this manner, the House would have been far more effective during his tenure. Of course, the goes, as well, for Mr. Reid in the Senate, and will go for all future leaders in these two bodies.

    The decision to raise the debt ceiling is not the time to discuss cutting spending. The debt ceiling needs to be raised to accommodate past decisions on spending. If Congress passes legislation that calls for spending, then they must pay for it. PERIOD. The time to discuss lowering or cutting spending is at the time that spending legislation is being considered, not after it's been passed.

    February 12, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  6. rs


    @rs.. And Obama had no hand in this economy...the Fed, independent of the President, thank God, is responsible to most of the performance. Unemployment?!?!?.. what a crock that is.....Take a look at the labor participation rate today vs 5 years ago! Lets deal with apples OR oranges, not both.
    Sure- Republicans shipped jobs offshore (a Mr. Romney specialty), and crashed the economy. You overlook the babyboom retirement. Look, as long as you keep crying "it can't be Obama, it can't be Obama, it must be someone else" you just sound stupid. Especially while y'all call him omnipotent dictator (or something).

    February 12, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  7. Ol' Yeller

    @Rudy NYC
    for media.fail2012
    Yes, and don't forget the republicant's will also tout that reagan ended the Cold War and brought down the wall. What is their theory on this? Well... it is that reagan spent the communists into their economic collapse. They brag about this and it is why they love reagan. Unless of course it is time to change their 'facts' like they so love to do, and put forth reagan as some fiscally conservative god. He raised taxes no less than 8 times, possibly 11, according to how you figger. He spent money like a drunk Paris Hilton and most of the billions he spent have resulted in 0 return (that is nada, zilch, nothing). Don't believe me? Then please show me where all the money went that was spent develope 'Star Wars'- his little pet project that a kajillion dollars was spent on, but does not exsist.
    Today, reagan would primaried from the right by a liberal republicant (if such a thing exsisted)....

    February 12, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. Tony

    A true conservative, you said that every time Republicans attempt to rein in spending the Senate adds to the bill and increases the cost. You need to be careful using the words "every time." If at any time the Senate refuses to act on the Republican attempts, your statement will be false.

    February 12, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  9. Albert Lingerfeld

    Just listened to Fox and I agree with commentors, this time Boehner did the right thing. Why get people mad at us again and why take the emphasis off Obamacare. Lets not change the story right now and put govt shutdown on the front pages.
    I have a bit of advice for Mr Boehner. Tomorrow go in front of the American People, a handful of your key allies behind you, American flag also and made an announcement to the Hispanic people in this country waiting for amnesty. The message: "Due to the delay until 2016 of the Obamacare Mandate, we have decided to put off any vote until Obamacare kicks in for all people and all businesses. At that time we will have a good handle on how to draft an amnesty bill" "Sorry for the delay but our time is now being spent trying to figure out health care in this country not coming to your aide right now"

    February 12, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  10. Stu Man

    What a joke the republican party is.

    February 12, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |

    This debt limit debate continues to make our friends from the UK, Canada, Spain, etc. ,LAUGH at this country. The DOW & S&P all went into positive (up over 1%) because the ceiling passed. Yet the GOP & conservatives continue to say "NO WAY" ! The irony is noteworthy, as is ole John Boehner. Does this guy hate his job? I'd say he is perhaps the worse Speaker in history. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't seek reelection.

    February 12, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  12. scott

    Planning on Voting in 2014
    R or D
    None of the above!!!

    February 12, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  13. Bob C.

    So basically, for all the times they claim Obama's ideas are horrible and are ruining the country, the GOP doesn't actually have a better idea of their own. By approving the debt ceiling without a fight, they are also admitting he's not really ruining the country. Gotta love politics.

    February 12, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  14. mike

    Boehner is a traitor to his party and his country. If being labeled an 'extremist' means a balanced budget, be a damned extremist! This guy has no guts.

    February 12, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  15. Bob Johnson

    "...allows his party to "move on" and return to their focus on Obamacare." What, they're going to pass another 48 bills to repeal the ACA? They really got far with THAT in the past.

    February 12, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  16. Oh man

    The conservative comments on here are fantastic. They reflect a lack of insight on our government that is just so precious and a clear example of what is wrong with the conservative mindset in general.

    You know why Greece died horribly in their financial state?

    Conservative agendas.

    February 12, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  17. bill n

    Rich people and wall street do not care about the debt limit as long as they get $ why should anyone?

    February 12, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  18. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Deficits don't matter...
    Dick Cheney

    February 12, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  19. Bill

    He passed it because he is smart. He has not been the problem, it is the tea party that I wish they would all create their 3rd party and be done with it. Then we would see what party stands where. Same thing with demo hard liberals, they should create their own party and we would see what happens. The dems and reps in the middle would be more for the middle class, don't you think.

    February 12, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  20. SpeakerOfTheOutHouse

    Boehner knows the system will fail, it's just a matter of time. Congress is bought and paid for by Corporations and Elite. Delay, delay delay until the next election. Repeat. Too big to fail not solved, nothing has been fixed in the system.

    February 12, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  21. sly

    Republicans want spending cuts? Oh really – that's why they increased the deficit 8 years in a row under Bush – with 100% of their party's approval?

    Ok, let's play Republican: You want cuts? How about the military, where we spend more than the next top 15 nations combined?

    Oh wait – you DON'T want military cuts when the President has dark skin huh? Only when it's a white Republican do we increase the deficit?

    February 12, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  22. pkfops01

    It's called "Dump the Tea Party".

    February 12, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. cbp

    Mr. Boehner understands just what the debt ceiling means and how it is applied. It is time that the whole process was clearly explained to the public so that this artificial debt does not cloud our thinking. This should not be a political football.

    February 12, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  24. SenorPlaid

    Republicans can be sensible. Who knew?

    February 12, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  25. rs

    The problem with the Right is this:
    They have no ideas, they have no solutions, except to fight against the federal government and a twice elected President no matter what the item is, or whether or not it will benefit or hurt the nation. They don't care. It is a great game to play-to win office. They do have obsessions which they confuse as being policies or planks (like legislating female reproduction in America).
    Pretty much, the Right has nothing but reaction. No plan, no future.

    February 12, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
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