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. ruducky2

    Why do we have this stupid debt ceiling?

    The idea was to curb spending. Put a limit on debt so that we wouldn't spend the money.

    But we keep spending the money so we of course have to raise the ceiling.

    If it isn't working to curb our spending habits get rid of it. As is, the only function it has is to create economic uncertainty.

    February 12, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  2. Donnie the Lion

    I'm a Democrat, I am not happy at all with the national debt, but....to deal with a deficit that large, you don't panic and do something dumb. You formualte a 10-15 year plan. Plus, the nation has finally realized the fastest way to drive up the debt is a boots on the ground military operation. The troops really aren't paid that much, but the support contractors, equipment, supplies, etc....enormous costs incurred. Need to stop that approach...our technological superiority over our enemies should be reflected in how we deal with them.

    February 12, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  3. West

    His re- election campaign is in full swing – the vote is within a couple of months.

    February 12, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  4. Hank

    Why even have a debt ceiling? Really- just open the middle-class check book and take as much as you need to keep the bubble inflated...

    February 12, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  5. rs

    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"
    They might just do that. Too bad the GOP has no flippin' clue about what to do regarding health care in America. Shoot, they are fighting their own "individual mandate".
    I think your idea however is sound. With 10 million people now enrolled, I think is is very brave for the GOP to stand against affordable health care for the poor and middle class, and to try their (idiotic) "use the ER instead" mantra.

    It adds to their heartlessness and disconnection from the vast majority of Americans and shows them for what they are-tools for the 1% who benefit from a majority of AMericans being poor.

    February 12, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. Belleville

    OK basic economics for idiots. John B, is a useless GOP hanging on to retirement. That said, he has no clout, no power in his own party, and will be put to rest by a younger generation of voters within 2-4 years. As far as borrowing goes, dear working class, stop borrowing for a car loan, and don't even think about taking a 15 year or 30 year mortgage. Well that's borrowing from the future.... So if the USA borrows with larger numbers, from the future, it does not matter. As JM Keynes said 65 years ago, " in the long run, we are all dead".

    February 12, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  7. Uh-Clem

    Since Citizens United became acceptable freedom of speech, the common citizen is no longer represented in Congress. And isn't that why we separated from Great Britain to begin with? #taxationwithoutrepresentation

    February 12, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  8. john

    I find it funny that Obama claimed failure of leadership as well as irresponsible and voted against raising the debt ceiling as a senator but now he and the liberals act as if it is no big deal. Keep on borrowing and the price we will pay in the end will be great.

    February 12, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  9. sniffy45

    this guy is smoking weed, look at those eye, say it aint so.

    February 12, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  10. spike

    President Obama "quipped" today during a visit to Monticello with the French president, "That's the good thing about being president, I can do whatever I want."

    Thank you socialists, communists, no info. and low info. voters for bringing in our first dictatorship

    February 12, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  11. Dean

    To RS – ACA is anything but affordable. 40% premium increase. Deductible raised from $250.00 to $2,000.00. Copay raised from zero to 40%. Tell me how this is affordable, please.

    February 12, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  12. Dean

    To RS – How do the 1% benefit from the majority of Americans being poor?

    February 12, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  13. spike

    What a great waste of money. Interest alone on the debt is 113 million PER DAY.

    February 12, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  14. George


    Yeah I guess that's true. Just like the barely literate George W. lied about WMD's and ended up getting the US into 2 wars with thousands of dead and injured American soldiers.

    February 12, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  15. sly

    "President Obama "quipped" today during a visit to Monticello with the French president, "That's the good thing about being president, I can do whatever I want." Thank you socialists, communists, no info. and low info. voters for bringing in our first dictatorship"
    Yup, and 62% of us approve of our President – who may really be Jesus Christ.

    President Obama sure was able to easily kick the TeaKlans butts when y'all tried to destroy the US Government last fall. Could He really be the Lord? And if so, how would y'all TeaKlans handle that, huh?

    My advise is age old: America – love it or leave it!

    February 12, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  16. Common Sense

    Yee haw! Nagin be goin to prison.....Karma is a good thing....hundreds of buses sat idle while he played the race card......sayonara sucka

    February 12, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  17. Common Sense

    I love the fact that this hood (Nagin) played the race card to the hilt with Bush during Katrina, now the lyin SOB is outta here for a long time......there really is justice for all the cry babies down in NOLA

    February 12, 2014 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  18. J Russ

    "Jimmy Joe Bob
    Republicans hurt the country and hurt themselves with their government shutdown and default fiascos"

    you do realize that default is not possible unless the president decides to default, don't you?

    February 12, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  19. zappo15

    Boehner is a bone head. he may not get relelected with his extremist stand which is damaging the country and he knows it.

    February 12, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  20. CryBabies

    @ Dean.... I think its affordable for rs because we get stuck paying for his healthcare. Sounds like a part of the plan.

    February 12, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  21. Common Sense

    to all my conservative friends: do not do anything, anything at all to take the focus off this horrific albatross called Obamacare from the headlines. I want this monstrosity to remain front and center until the 2nd Tuesday in November. Then we can enjoy the Republican landslide, making the current white house an impotent lame duck......

    February 12, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  22. CryBabies

    sly...The things you say! Do you live in Washington State or Colorado?

    February 12, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  23. Phil

    There's a lot at stake if the dept ceiling is not rasied. People, we look at it as if Obama was just spending money himself. Programs and money given to other countries were being handed out years before he got into off. There has not been a president since Ronald Regan that didn't raise the dept ceiling and Regan raised it 4 times durining his presidency. He also taxed the rich. Study your history. Boehner did what he did because he new there was a risk and that risk was his party being blamed for letting it happen. But, it's sad that nothing Obama does is good enough for some of you. It must be tough blaming a man that wants change, but to watch the GOP reject everything. By the way, several progrrams he wanted were Republican programs several were Regans!

    February 12, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  24. m

    because he's an absolute loser . ..

    February 12, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  25. Dave

    Finally the GOP gets it. When Dems are in power, step aside and let them shoot themselves in the foot.

    February 12, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
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