House approves ‘clean’ debt-ceiling increase

Speaker Boehner’s capitulation marks retreat from major GOP strategy of asking for concessions

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner before the State of the Union address, Jan. 28, 2014.

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass a debt-limit increase to allow the Treasury Department to continue borrowing freely through March 15, 2015. Speaker of the House John Boehner brought the legislation to the floor Tuesday without asking for policy concessions from President Barack Obama or congressional Democrats. The move marks a significant capitulation for the House GOP, for whom linking debt-ceiling votes to other demands has been a major legislative strategy.

Since seizing control of the House in 2010, Boehner and his caucus have called for spending cuts, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and other concessions in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, in several instances pushing the nation to the brink of default.

This time, however, Boehner could not get his caucus to agree on what to ask for. Even a relatively modest proposal to repeal a slight cut in military pension cost-of-living increases floated among members earlier this week could not generate enough support among more conservative members.

The vote extended the borrowing authority of the U.S. government well after the 2014 midterm elections.

Some hailed the move as a significant political victory for Democrats. Obama has tried to break Republicans’ habit of tying the debt ceiling to other fights, but never without protracted wrangling. In October, the negotiations resulted in a 16-day government shutdown and nearly default.

“I hope the tactic of threatening default for budget debates is over, off the table and never to happen again," said Gene Sperling, the departing director of the White House’s National Economic Council.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that he hoped the development portended that the House would come to the table on other legislative priorities that the conservative wing of the Republican Party has avoided.  

“The House has come to the realization that following the hard right on the debt ceiling made no sense, which is good for the House, good for the Republican Party and good for America,” he said, according to reports. “We hope soon enough they’ll come to the same realization on immigration.”

Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning that House Democrats would have to drum up the majority of votes for the increase and that he would need to find 18 Republicans to get on board.

“It’s the president driving up the debt and the president wanting to do nothing about the debt that’s occurring, will not engage in our long-term spending problem — and so let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants,” he said.

“This is a lost opportunity,” he added.

The measure would have failed if either party hadn’t been able corral enough members.

“Isn’t that pathetic that they can only get 18 votes to ensure that their nation can pay its bills?” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., to reporters during his weekly press conference.

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