Here’s Why the Odds of a U.S. Debt Default Just Increased
Policy + Politics

Here’s Why the Odds of a U.S. Debt Default Just Increased

Emily Flake

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner has ripped up the script for how Congress will tackle the next debt ceiling deadline.

On Monday, the Ohio Republican concluded a Beltway guessing game when he announced that the full chamber would vote October 29, the day before he is due to resign, to determine his successor.

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But he added a new wrinkle by postponing the internal House GOP elections for majority leader and whip – originally expected to take place this Thursday – until after his replacement gets the gavel. The Republican-only vote for speaker will take place this week as planned.

“The new Speaker will establish the date for these additional leadership elections. This new process will ensure House Republicans have a strong, unified team to lead our conference and focus on the American people’s priorities,” Boehner said in a statement.

The U.S. government is set to run out of money sometime on or around November 5. If lawmakers don’t increase the limit on federal borrowing, the United States would default on its financial obligations for the first time in its history.

The issue has sharply divided the House GOP conference in recent years, with hardline conservatives – like the kind that helped drive Boehner from office – arguing against such an increase.

Related: McCarthy Isn’t Speaker Yet, but Some Conservatives Want to ‘Fire’ Him Already

The looming November deadline was shaping up to be the first big test for Boehner’s replacement, presumably current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

However, by handing off responsibility for electing the second and third posts on the totem pole, Boehner has injected a new unstable element into an already volatile situation.

Should McCarthy garner the 124 GOP votes necessary to become the speaker nominee and win the House floor vote with 218 supporters, he could put off the elections until after the debt ceiling deadline, leaving a veteran team of Republican leaders in place.

However, McCarthy could lose the floor vote to a challenger like House Oversight and Government Reform chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who declared his candidacy over the weekend.

Chaffetz said Republicans should be ready for a debt default and push for more government shutdowns to achieve their policy goals, according to CNN.

Related: Boehner’s Strange Plan to Stay in Power a Little Longer

If McCarthy loses, he’d keep his current job. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) would also stay put.

Of course, Boehner himself could negotiate some kind of debt ceiling increase with the Obama administration before he leaves office and give a new speaker a reprieve.

Speaking last month on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” before the latest default drama developed, Boehner said, “I don't want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there."