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. Frank

    Very distasteful for conservatives but a politically smart move. Keep the focus of the conversation on Obama and his disastrous policies and win the senate this fall. Then you have the ability to neuter this lame duck once and for all.

    February 12, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  2. texasnotea

    The stock Market IMMEDIATELY rebounded from it's current slide when the vote of 221-201 was announced. That means that the 201 republicans who voted against raising the debt ceiling have no clue of how the economy was and would have been negatively affected by holding America hostage again like before.

    February 12, 2014 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  3. John N Florida

    John Boehner is NOT the best in the land at Cat Herding.

    February 12, 2014 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  4. Jme

    Why fight the crazy spending in DC? It only gives the Democraps ammunition. Let's keep focused on Obamacare....the Democraps own that.

    February 12, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  5. Mark

    The media one its "do nothing about debt" campaign

    Stock up on canned food now my friends

    February 12, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  6. rs

    Boehner may have saved his party- had the pinheads voted to default on this nations debt- especially after failing again to pass a balanced budget, the House GOP shutting down the government and crashing the economy would have been the nuclear event for the Republicans- the day America declared war on the GOP.

    As things stand, the GOP's approval rating languishes between 20-22%- which means even a significant number of Republican votes aren't happy with the party. Another assualt on the economy and shutdown would have driven that into the 'teens- and would have all but certified losses in November. Priebus should treat Boehner very nicely for a good long time.

    February 12, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  7. Bill, Bloominton IL

    I am doing very under the democratic plan. I am ohly adding 8 pounds this year instead of 10. This way of thinking is killing us.

    February 12, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  8. erika young

    The Tea Party is the only party trying not to raise the debt fools. You think over spending 1 trillion a year is the answer? As usual, you've got it all up-side down. Think for yourselves.

    February 12, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  9. Ol' Yeller

    @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."

    Bullying and arrogance... really? Let's see, when the republicants were in power after they stole the election in 00', anybody who complained or pointed out that bush won the election by 1 vote (5 to 4) were told to move out of the country if they did not like it and the citizens of Florida were basically disenfranchised by a right wing SCOTUS. Dems were mocked and ridiculed and asked by shawn hannity and the other conservative media elites, "Why do you hate America?". We were lied to repeatedly by every member of that administration in an effort to have us invade a country who had never posed a serious threat to the US. It was successful, especially when our "leaders" told us about the mushroom cloud and WMD's, neither of which existed and they knew it. All the while, the republicant's in power bullied us into 2 wars against countries who had NEVER attacked us. We were told about the 'real America' in which we were obviously not a part of. Protestors were locked in cages at bush rallies were only the handpicked rwnj's were allowed to cheer madly at king george (despite his gross failure at stopping the worst terrorist attack in our history) while he told us to all go shopping.
    Of course, you know I could go on and on about this, but please tom I, tell us more about your victimization.
    We are all very concerned about this "elections have consequences" statement which has so harmed your fragile ego.

    February 12, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  10. rs

    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.
    Democrats never threatened the entire economy of the United States of America (and for that matter, most or the economy of the developed world), over hyper-radical partisan politics. The GOP is little better than the Taliban on that front.

    February 12, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  11. Steve in PA

    It is NOT President Obama's debt. The Legislature makes the laws on taxation and spending...the President only signs them. This bill authorizes the paying of the bills that they have already agreed to in the past. Trying to lay this at his feet is ridiculous. When we come to these pieces of milestone legislation, the cry is always "why won't "he" sit down and in a non-partisan way discuss these things. Hello! You sit down with the people you need to discuss these things with all the time, yet you accomplish nothing. NOTHING. Each side wants to exact concessions from the other so they can say "see what we did", yet they do nothing. This continual game of brinkmanship just keeps things at a status quo while the economy slowly limps toward recovery. The deadline on the debt limit is now passed and it is done. Now let's see this cry for non-partisan behavior move forward and do something...do some cutting, do some tax raising...pay the bills, lower the amount outstanding. Work for the "We the People" sector for a change...just a little while, instead of the "we the huge campaign donors and lobbying firms".

    February 12, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  12. rs

    Jeff Brown in Jersey

     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.
    Well that, and Congress would be so much more colorful!

    February 12, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  13. Steve

    Mr. Boehner, please have the courage to raise the debt ceiling to $50 trillion. Then watch the liberals complain. Hey libbie's, $50 trillion is about 30% of the real debt we have accumulated if you forced the government to use the same accounting methods that are forced on Fortune 500 companies most of you detest.

    February 12, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  14. Old West

    What morons the republican party is...read my lips "Yes Madam President."

    February 12, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  15. Seattle Sue

    I would hope that Boehner will lose his seat and never be heard from again, he could just sit on his butt and collect his retirement from the government. But he would probably be replaced with someone worst that what he is.

    February 12, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  16. Peter Gerdeman

    Is the orange alcoholic going to cry for us again? What a sorry bunch of anarchists...

    February 12, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  17. gladiatorgrl

    he's just been really a total failure and so has his party – they're just embarrassing and embolden our enemies

    February 12, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  18. Captain Jack 2108

    Finally, Boehner figures it out.. Pass everything and anything. There's still enough time for everything to collapse. I guess we need to learn the hard way. "American" got it right. Hang on tight...

    February 12, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  19. Rudy NYC

    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.
    The major politician most credited with uttering that quote is George W. Bush, which was uttered frequently during his 2000 campaign. Please, do try to stay on topic, instead of manufacturing arguments, words that people have never said.

    February 12, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  20. Vader

    @Mark The media one (sic) its "do nothing about debt" campaign

    "Dealing with the debt" is actually a budgetary issue, not the debt ceiling which is simply a reflection of monies ALREADY committed/spent.

    February 12, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  21. I dunno

    The "non-partisan" CBO said that we must control entitlement spending. Beohner had no choice but to pass the increase because last time they tried to use the debt ceiling to reign in spending they were lambasted by the media and their approval numbers fell. I don't know what event will finally trigger it, but some day we'll have a people and a government that want to control spending. However, it's not this government and apparently not these people.

    February 12, 2014 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  22. wendel

    this is money already spent that we have to pay for. The repos spend it then refuse to pay their bill. Even Orangeman knows his party is full of idiots but he has to keep up the rhetoric . He also knows we are fed up with this bunch of looney's Time to get rid of the baggers and move forward.

    February 12, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  23. Rudy NYC

    tom l wrote:

    Rudy, The only one that is just saying "no" is the President.
    "There will be NO spending increases without a means to pay for it."
    "We will NEVER again raise taxes." They even signed pledges to show how serious they were about saying, "No."

    Need I continue?

    February 12, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  24. Rusty Krus

    Why fight the crazy spending in DC? It only gives the Democraps ammunition. Let's keep focused on Obamacare....the Democraps own that.

    Democraps? Such a clever boy... And by the way, Obamacare is law now. Still fight the Civil War too?

    February 12, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  25. Robyn


    >> Why Boehner gave in on debt ceiling vote?

    How about, "Mr. Boehner did the right thing for America."

    Mr. Boehner is my representative.
    I believe he is wrong about practical everything in government, politics, the economy, social programs, foreign and domestic policy and where America is now and where it should be heading in the future.

    But disagreeing with someone else on policy does not mean that one or both of us has to have a temper tantrum and try to destroy America if we don't get our way.

    Mr. Boehner was a gentleman and he did the right thing.
    I thank him and applaud him for his decision.
    Well done, sir!

    In the future, there will be some decisions Mr. Boehner will prevail on that I disagree with.
    There will be some issues that people who agree with me will succeed against Mr. Boehner on.
    It is not out of the question that we might find some issues that we could all agree on and win together.

    But if we can do it without fanatical threats and intentional infliction of harm on the American people,
    we will all be the better for it.


    February 12, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
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