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. VJ

    John Boehner did right thing for this country.... Good job..... If he had done in the past, our economy would have been much better now... leave TeaPublicans alone.....

    February 12, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  2. sly

    Simple question:

    How come all the TeaKlan favored the federal debt increases under Bush (8 straight years – 100% support).

    Hmmm? Hmmmm? Let's hear the logic? Wouldn't have anything to do with the color of the President's skin now would it? Oh, no? Then let's hear why it was GOOD that Bush increased the debt 8 times? Still waiting.

    Plain and simple: ALL Republicans are liars!

    February 12, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  3. longhauler

    When Obama took office the deficit was about a trillion /yr now its something like 250 billion

    February 12, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. Boomer in Mo

    Congress controls the purse. The way to stop spending is to stop spending. Not spend, spend, spend and then refuse to pay the bill. There was amble opportunity to cut spending in the recently passed farm bill. Members of congress were too busy trying to pack pork into it to make any effort to cut costs by limiting payments to millionaire farmers and corporations that own farm land. Congress needs to cut spending, period. Then the debt problem would take care of itself.

    February 12, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  5. A True Conservative

    So we can't pay our credit card bill so we took out another home equity loan......look at what happened in 2008 when that plan caught up with Americans doing the same thing.....yet the progressives are simply too smart to understand this fundamental idea.....BTW Tony – you do realize that every tie Republicans attempt to rein in spending the Senate adds to the bill and increases the cost......you know....the Democrat controlled Senate.....

    February 12, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  6. Tracy

    Typical GOP tactic. Let it pass then blame the Democrats. I throw my hands up in the air as the GOP is dead.

    February 12, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC


    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.
    I don't kinow where some of you get your facts from, but Ronald Reagan probalby vetoed more bills than any other U.S. President. He vetoed every budget until the got the massive defense spending increases and the entitlement CUTS that he wanted. Reagan had tried to build super-lasers on orbiting space platforms. Reagan was one of the worst spenders of all time, exceeded only by the excesses of George W. Bush. Bush increased annual spending at a record pace his entire term.

    February 12, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  8. Tracy

    Bring ALL of our troops home. Put them on our boarders so they stay employed. We will have secure boarders and save billions of $$$

    February 12, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  9. Bubba Ray

    Dick Cheney said that Regean proved deficits don't matter. How could I disagree with a man of fine character like DICK Cheney. And to question anything Saint Raygun did would be blasphemy.

    February 12, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  10. sifto

    Good call, Speaker..too bad Reid won't give the same consideration to the Senate...vote was fair..most votes wins...

    February 12, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. Matthew

    "[. . .] before the House left town until the end of the month."

    After all, it's already the 12th of the month. Our politicians have already labored far too much this month and need a break. After all, luxury vacations provided illegally by unions, lobbyists, corporations, and über-rich private individuals don't take themselves!

    February 12, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  12. Pam from Iowa

    The President can only spend what Congress allows him to spend.....Boehner can only hang his head in shame.......

    February 12, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. Chuk

    The GOP is not interested in what's good for the country as a whole. Their only interest is what will get them into power. So they'd come up with schemes they think will get them there.

    February 12, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  14. Tammy

    The one and only reason the GOP didn't shut down this government again over raising the debt ceiling is because it's an election year.

    Plain and simple.

    They shut down the govt and refuse to raise the debt ceiling...

    They lose in November.

    February 12, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  15. fthomascain

    Because nothing can stop the runaway spending of this country and 52% of the population does not care!

    February 12, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  16. Malory Archer


    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.


    Actually, he had a repug senate for the first 6 years of his reign of error, so if facts are "hurting" ANYONE's argument, it would be YOUR's. Honestly, yolu should educate yourself so we "liburls" don't have to spend so much time schooling you on FACTS that are so easily researched.

    February 12, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  17. you

    hahahah You get NOTHING!

    February 12, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  18. Money, money, money....

    As long as American leaders are purchased by the highest bidder, America will decline.
    As long as American leaders embrace income inequalities that are surpassing those preceding the Great Depression, America will decline.

    February 12, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  19. Malory Archer


    Good call, Speaker..too bad Reid won't give the same consideration to the Senate...vote was fair..most votes wins...


    Did you see how they voted? One hundred ninety nine rep house members voted AGAINST it and the rethugs in the senate will most likely filibuster it – but somehow that'll be Harry Reid's fault, right?

    February 12, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  20. SkippyCanCan

    The debt ceiling is stupid anyway. You can't not pay your debts – that's default and it would put the economy in a tailspin. Spending is controlled through the budget. That is where the fight needs to happen. Congrats to Boehner for figuring it out and not playing political games that only cost the GOP support. People can debate whether how much we spend and where we spend it, but it would make more sense to get rid of the debt ceiling altogether since it is just a distraction with no real meaning.

    February 12, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  21. bilk7

    Boehner said it's the "president's debt"? Congress controls the purse strings and even John Boehner knows that raising the debt ceiling is necessary to pay for previous approved spending by Congress. Work at cutting spending but don't go and spend without paying your bills and then blaming the president for it. Some Americans fall for anything these guys say lately but we're not all that dumb.

    February 12, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  22. Bob Penn

    Ted is correct in not worrying about default because there is plenty of revenue to cover debt payments if the government prioritizes payments. The real problem is that we could lose our status as the world’s reserve currency limiting our ability to borrow. It is also morally wrong to steal from the younger generation by overspending and borrowing.

    February 12, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  23. Greg

    The House more than any other part of the government is responsible for the budget. So this is in no way the "president's debt". If Republicans want to cut the debt, Democrats are willing to join them if coupled with tax reform. The debt will never be managed if either party is unwilling to compromise. All options should be on the table. Go from there. Show some leadership. President Obama attempted a grand bargain but the GOP wasn't interested. And part of that is that the GOP doesn't want the President to have success of any kind even if the country desperately needs it. Part of it is instinctive ideological rigidness. The Democrats seem more flexible these days.

    February 12, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  24. Peter Thompson

    We are really happy that the politicians decided to raise the debt ceiling without a fight or any discussion on how to reduce the spending. /sarcasm...

    yet there is no good reason to extend unemployment extensions? in -humane treatment of our brothers and sister

    February 12, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  25. Joe

    Just keep raising the limit. Now that is pathetic Hoyer. Yeah "Zippidity Do Da" Mr. Speaker. 435 irresponsible loons. We'll be just like Greece and all the rest very soon

    February 12, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
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