House votes to hike debt ceiling without conditions

In a major capitulation, GOP retreats from strategy of asking for concessions in exchange for debt limit hike

House Speaker John Boehner leaving the Capitol building with his security detail on Tuesday.
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted 221 to 201 Tuesday to raise the nation’s borrowing authority with no strings attached, an oddity for a chamber that has for the past three years pushed the nation to the brink of default before agreeing to increase the debt ceiling.

Twenty-eight Republicans joined 193 Democrats for final passage of the measure.

The legislation, expected to be taken up by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, would extend the borrowing authority of the U.S. government until March 2015, well after the 2014 midterm elections.

House Speaker John Boehner surprised many when he announced Tuesday morning that he would bring a "clean" debt ceiling vote to the floor, without tying any GOP demands to the legislation, as has been customary. Since Republicans gained a majority in the chamber in 2010, the conference has asked for various concessions in exchange for allowing the federal government to keep borrowing and spending, including budget cuts and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

This time around, the House GOP caucus could not agree on what to ask for — a sign of the continuing infighting consuming the party. Even a modest proposal to tie the debt ceiling increase to a repeal of military pension cuts passed in the budget this year did not garner enough support among conservative members.  

The passage of the "clean" hike is being hailed as a victory for Democrats, particularly the president, who, after trying to come to a “grand bargain” on the budget with Republicans during the debt ceiling crisis in 2011, has said he will no longer gamble with the full credit of the U.S. government. Nonetheless, wranglings over the budget and debt ceiling caused a 16-day government shutdown in October and almost pushed the nation toward a catastrophic default.

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

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters he hoped the development indicated that the House would move on other legislative priorities without bowing to its more conservative wing.

“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. “We hope soon enough they’ll come to the same realization on immigration.”

Still, some Republicans were not thrilled with the development, including Boehner.

“This is a lost opportunity,” he told reporters Tuesday morning. “We could have sat down and worked together in a bipartisan manner to find cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit. It would have helped us begin to solve the spending problem we have, begin the process of paying down our debt. So I am disappointed.”

Republican members of the House also lamented letting another chance to address Washington’s continued spending and debt problem pass by, despite shrinking deficits.

“Default is not a question of if, it is a question of when,” said Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga.

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