With 28 GOP Votes, House OKs Debt-Limit Increase

With 28 GOP Votes, House OKs Debt-Limit Increase
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On a 221-201 vote, the House of Representatives swiftly passed a measure Tuesday evening to lift the debt ceiling through March 2015, capping a day of fast-turning events.

Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner announced he would bring a “clean” bill to the floor without any policy attachments -- a move Republicans typically abhor when it comes to raising the government’s borrowing limit.

As speaker, Boehner doesn’t have to vote, but in a rare move he cast one in favor of the measure. In bringing it to the floor, he also dismissed his “Boehner rule” of requiring equal spending cuts in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.

The passage came after the speaker’s efforts to attach bargaining trade-offs to attract GOP votes ended without requisite support. “We don’t have 218 votes,” he said that morning, acknowledging what has become a problematic reality of his tenure.

Conservative outside groups opposed the bill as a capitulation, and scored lawmakers’ votes. But Boehner’s move also carried some political benefits for the party and himself: It removes the specter, at least for now, of another risky showdown over the country’s credit worthiness -- for which the GOP would take the hit. In addition, no one in his conference is calling for Boehner to step down.

The clean bill passed largely on the backs of Democrats, with all but two of them (Jim Matheson of Utah and John Barrow of Georgia) voting in favor. The majority of Republicans opposed the bill, but 28 voted for it, boosting it to passage.

Republican leadership was split, with Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy voting in favor and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, James Lankford and Lynn Jenkins opposed. House Budget Chair Paul Ryan and Boehner ally Tom Cole also voted against the bill.

GOP leaders who voted for the measure tried to steer potential political fallout onto Democrats. “House Republicans need more responsible and willing partners in Washington so we can finally and boldly address our long-term debt crisis,” Cantor said, without mentioning his own vote.

Now, in another interesting turn of events, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Republican Ted Cruz objected to a possible deal to have a simple majority vote and moved to force a 60-vote threshold to move forward with the bill, which would require the support of five GOP senators.

“They don’t have to vote for it,” Cruz told reporters at the Capitol. “We should have every Republican stand together and follow the responsible course of action: insist on meaningful spending reforms before raising the debt ceiling.”

Getting the 60 votes needed for cloture could be difficult. “I don’t think Republicans over here want to have any ownership of this thing. And there are no Republicans that I know of that will want to vote for it,” Sen. John Thune, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, told RCP earlier in the day. “So finding Republicans who will vote for it to get to 60, I suspect it will be pretty slim pickings."

Still, Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will act quickly on the measure, and applauded Boehner for “doing the right thing.”

The House is now in recess until Feb. 24. The Senate will follow after handling the borrowing authorization legislation. The debt limit deadline was reached last week, but the Treasury Department has been using accounting techniques to avoid default; those measures will run out by the end of the month.

The White House hailed Tuesday’s House vote, calling it “a positive step in moving away from the political brinkmanship that’s a needless drag on our economy.” 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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