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. Nate Kuehl

    So we are now again blaming Bush for the debt, I will agree he was a little loose with the purse strings as a conservative, however, do not forget who has been in power the last 8 years. The last 6 are on Obama and the two before that both houses were controlled by the Democrats. Can Republicans then go back and say it was the policies of Clinton's last years that started this snowball. When is anyone going to stop the blame game and just take responsibility. I am sure I will wait until hell freezes over before a Democrat ever takes any responsibility for our countries crisis. I am a realist, both sides are to blame.

    February 12, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  2. Matt

    Worst speaker ever.

    February 12, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  3. foxghostwriter

    Conservatives howling like wolves at the moon.....Nice.

    As usual, conservatives are putting all their eggs into the Obamacare basket. Hasn't work so well for them since 2010. Guess fifth times the charm.

    Boehner is just trying his darnedest to run out the clock till Nov 2014. And Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are intent on jacking up 3 pointers from half court.

    February 12, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  4. Carrie

    I am thinking he only gave in because he doesn't want to be stuck in DC during the snow storm that is about to hit.

    February 12, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  5. Lamanzo

    Boehner: "It's the President's debt. We just pass the spending bills."

    February 12, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  6. sly

    Good move by Congress to keep America running.

    Thank you President Obama for lowering the federal deficit pct to the lowest level in 50 years. Best stock market ever! These are good times for America, and praise the Lord American's threw the TeaKlan out of Congress after they tried to shut down America.

    I'm proud to be an American with a strong progressive President.

    February 12, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  7. Hymie

    Corporate America is the ones who are bankrupting America. It is not Obamacare, it is not Social Security and it is not Medicare. It is Corporate America who selects the fools who sit in the House and the Senate to supposedly run the country. They make it look like we the people have elected them to office but whom we've elected have all been vetted beforehand by the powers of Corporate America. These handouts to Corporate America have got to stop. It starts with the federal government and trickles down to local politics. Look at how your local leaders cow-tow to Corporate America in your towns and cities. A prime example is Harley Davidson. Two years ago, they threatened to move out of York, PA unless they received concessions form Harrisburg and the local community. They caved and Harley Davidson got what they wanted, no taxes and no watchdogs. Next time a big Sporting club wants a city to fund the next big hippodrome to host their events, ask yourself, why should your community pay for NFL, NBA or NHL's next new stadium when they are raking in billions and billions of dollars every year? Why is this on the back of taxpayers?

    February 12, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  8. foxghostwriter

    Nate Kuehl, to be honest, they are blaming things on Regan as well. You know....back when deficits didn't matter?

    Turns out deficit spending went down during the Clinton years....as it has during Obama's years. It went up during Regan's, Bush the Firster's and Bush the Seconder's years. So yeah....maybe instead of getting mad at democrats, you should ask yourself why conservatives only started worrying about this in Nov 2008?

    February 12, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  9. Anonymous

    Republicans are too divided, as an Independent I can see that they are not going to make much progress this year and it will cost them in the elections too. Splits within the party fighting will create multiple candidates to vote for and that will divide the poll numbers too much for wins.

    February 12, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  10. Larry L

    @libs arethick

    "Go ahead Liberals let Obama raise the debt ceiling and completely bankrupt America.
    Boehner RIGHTLY disagreed with raising it [AGAIN!] but the uneducated Lemmings in the US evidently WANT a mega economic crash. Foolish sheep that they are."

    Let "Obama have his way"? Who o you think incurred the debt? Congress creates the spending bills and the President signs them. We exceed the debt ceiling because of debts we've ALREADY incurred. What you're proposing is for America to default on our debt – like you not paying your credit card bills. If you were trying to design an economic crash that's how you'd do it! That would by definition "bankrupt America". What do you think would happen? Did Fox News explain that part? Cut and spend economics creates a deficit. As long as the rich do not pay a higher tax rate we'll have lower revenues than expenditures. As long as the middle class struggle we will not produce enough growth in our economy to overcome deficit spending.

    February 12, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  11. Douglas Collins

    He didn't cave on this issue. Its was a compromise with the President over food stamps. The GOP wanted to starve children a little more by reducing $11 from the monthly benefit, a tag along on the farm bill.

    February 12, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  12. AlbaMN

    Good on the House. Actually doing the People's business without theatrics for once. All debt ceiling bills should be clean, save the rest for budget bills. And this crap about a majority of Republicans being for something before it is voted on is more obstructionism. Bring bills up for votes and see what happens. Let Representatives vote their conscience.

    February 12, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  13. LJ

    Boehner and Pelosi own the titles of worst speakers.

    February 12, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. Hooper

    Because he knows he and his party are toast from the center of the slice, to the edge of the crust. Your party has made enemy's over the past six years, better accept it while you've still got a chance.

    February 12, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  15. Carol

    Boehner and the rest of the Republicans did the right thing, reason for them doing it. They only needed 27 votes from the Republicans to pass this, it wasn't necessary to have one vote more. They weren't forced by the Democrats to do anything. In fact the Democrats have nothing to yell about now in this direction.

    February 12, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  16. Rudy NYC

    Nate Kuehl

    So we are now again blaming Bush for the debt, I will agree he was a little loose with the purse strings as a conservative, however, do not forget who has been in power the last 8 years. The last 6 are on Obama and the two before that both houses were controlled by the Democrats.
    Okay, let's do it your way. Republicans controlled the Congress from 1995 until 2007. They controlled the White House from 2001 until 2009. Right? The Great Recession began in June 2007, which is why most people will always blame George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and most especially Dick "deficits don't matter" Cheney.

    February 12, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  17. rs


    Boehner and Pelosi own the titles of worst speakers.
    Pelosi got stuff done. Boehner has certainly presided over the least productive Congress in history.

    February 12, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  18. Jim

    Until the Government can figure out a way to get people off their lazy butts, get an eduction, contribute to society, we will be in debt. You hear the comment all the time that there just aren't enough good jobs when in reality most of the people who say that aren't qualified for good jobs anyway. You can't quit HS and not obtain a skill and expect to get a good job. What's worse is that those people are causing businesses to cut back because of taxes and now they can't hire some people who do have skill. If you continually give them housing assistance, food assistance etc, healthcare assistance, what is their motivation to contribute?

    February 12, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  19. rs

    Nate Kuehl

    So we are now again blaming Bush for the debt, I will agree he was a little loose with the purse strings as a conservative, however, do not forget who has been in power the last 8 years.
    Well, Nate, Bush started with a surplus, and blew that into the bigest defict and debt to date after his election. The VooDoo economics of "cut taxes and spend" elevated Republican economics to a new level of insanity. Mark this: Bush is the first President in the History of our great nation to declare war and not raise taxes. Not only did he do this twice (Iraq and Afghanistan), he actually CUT taxes. The real costs of these two wars are probably somewhere between $2-4 Trillion. Add to theat the Bush Crash of '08 when the economy shrank at record rates shedding upwards of 800,000 jobs a month, and the markey recoiled by 50%, and you might begin to understand why the majority of Americans still feel this is Mr. Bush's (and by extension) the GOP's handiwork. BTW Mr. Obama will serve 8 years, but is only in his 5th. During that time the deficit has been cut in half, unemployment is at it lowest since Bush left office, and the Market has doubled. The GOP played NO role in that recovery.

    That probably makes you proud!

    February 12, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  20. Greg

    If the population continues to increase, isn't capping spending actually a reduction?

    February 12, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  21. Adam Morgan

    President's debt?! Congress controls spending, not the President. As per the U.S. Constitution the President only makes budget requests. Congress has to authorize and pass spending bills. This is Congress' debt plain and simple.

    February 12, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  22. media.fail2012

    Here's a little timeline for you liberals since you fail at keeping all the relevant facts, at least the ones that hurt your argument....

    Reagan had democrat controlled House and Senate with large majorities. They had no problem putting all of their extra spending(pork) on bills to fund Social Security and Medicare to keep Reagan from vetoing them. Also, dems back then had no problems lying/breaking deals they had made with Reagan, example: Tip O'Neal promised $3 in cuts for every new $1 raised in taxes (sound familiar?)..cuts never happened.

    Clinton was perfectly happy running deficits for the first 2 years in office while democrats still had the House and Senate. When the Republicans took over (conservative version of Republicans, not establishment types), he fought their changes to the budget so hard that he refused to sign the budget and shut the government down. Of course he eventually caved and negotiated in earnest, but now you act like it was his plan all along? lol, please

    And NOW, Obama took us up to 1.5 trillion dollar deficits in his first year and we are supposed to be happy that he finally got it down to half that? (before any of you regurgitate that tired mess of a line that somehow Bush 'hid the debt') Obama signed the stimulus bill (836 billion) into law and the democrat congress authorized the 2nd half of TARP (even though most experts said it wasn't necessary and banks were told that they were going to take the money with and underlying "or else" even if they didn't need it)

    February 12, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  23. Bob from Accounting

    The media has been incorrigible in its glee over this. Pictures of Boehner with a glum look often with a triumphant looking Obama nearby (CNN, for once, showed some restraint this time). It's all just a game to them and yet nothing is said of the real loss this country faces when spending is such that we must increase our debt limit.

    It has already been proven that, even if you taxed the rich 100% and actually got that revenue, the debt wouldn't even come close to being tackled as long as spending isn't addressed. A real sign of our decline when we celebrate needing to be more in debt.

    February 12, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  24. CryBabies

    @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.

    February 12, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  25. Tony

    Lamanzo, you have it backward. Without spending bills, the president can't spend. Even deficit spending requires that Congress passes spending bills first. Remember the government shutdowns? Republicans prefer that you don't remember the government shutdowns. Congress did not pass spending bills, so the government shut down. Republicans became less popular than Obamacare. Republicans realized that they couldn't force the president to cut spending when they were the ones writing spending bills. Actually, because the Constitution assigns the job of writing spending bills to the House, Republicans are still the ones writing spending bills.

    February 12, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
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