Has the GOP’s Debt Ceiling Fever Really Broken?
Policy + Politics

Has the GOP’s Debt Ceiling Fever Really Broken?

The Fiscal Times

The House will vote Tuesday night on a bill to raise the debt ceiling – a measure that will be unencumbered by any of the Republicans’ previous demands. 

House GOP leaders decided to hold the vote tonight instead of Wednesday morning out of concern for a major winter storm heading towards the East Coast, according to a House leadership memo.

Related: Breached!! U.S. Surpassed the Debt Ceiling Today 

For a while, House Republicans were looking for a deal – they were hoping to get something from the administration in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling again. Their wish list included President Obama’s approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act to knock out a potential “bailout” for the insurance industry, reforms of the budget process, and rescinding a provision of last year’s bipartisan budget deal that trimmed cost of living benefits for some military retirees. 

Obama has repeatedly bridled at Republican efforts to load up the debt ceiling with key elements of their agenda, arguing that the government must honor its financial obligations. And one by one those demands fell away, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) couldn’t forge a consensus within his unruly Republican Conference.

Related: Debt Ceiling Is the GOP’s New Third Rail of Politics 

By late Monday, Boehner reportedly was ready to send a debt ceiling bill to the floor containing one lone demand – a highly popular move in both parties to restore the one percentage point shaved from the cost-of-living increases for working-age veterans. 

But even that modest proposal failed to attract 218 Republicans, the minimum needed to pass a bill in the House without Democratic support. And on Tuesday morning, a frustrated Boehner announced in a private GOP meeting that he was throwing in the towel. Boehner has repeatedly said he would not allow a first-ever default of U.S. debt on his watch. So he decided to offer up a “clean” bill to raise the government’s borrowing authority for another year – unencumbered with any demands -- when the House meets on Wednesday.

“House Republican leaders told members this morning that it is clear the paid-for military COLA provision will not attract enough support, so we will be bringing up a ‘clean’ debt limit bill tomorrow,” a Republican official told The New York Times. “Boehner made clear the GOP would provide the requisite number of Republican votes for the measure but that Democrats will be expected to carry the vote.”

Related: Military Benefits Must Be Cut to Make the Math Work   

Now the effort to pass the bill has been moved up to tonight out of concern for the weather. And that won’t be easy.

Senior Republican lawmakers and aides are openly wondering just how many of their members will vote for a clean debt ceiling, according to Politico. The minority Democrats would have to bear the brunt of passing the bill. Senior GOP sources wondered if they’ll be able to muster the minimum 18 Republicans needed to raise the debt ceiling above the current $17 trillion-plus borrowing authority.

Time is definitely running out. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned that Congress must raise the government’s borrowing authority before Feb. 27 or face the consequences of default. The House is scheduled to go out of session tomorrow afternoon and is not expected to return before Feb. 27.

Many Republicans refuse to raise the government’s borrowing authority, regardless of whether the GOP can extract their demands from the White House and Democratic Senate. “It’s the fact that we don’t have 218 votes,” Boehner said after meeting with House Republicans this morning, “and when you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing.”

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He added that he expected almost all of the House Democrats to vote to pass the bill, though he sounded less confident he could muster the 18 Republican votes to get the legislation across the finish line. “We’ll have to find them,” Boehner said. “I’ll be one.”

The conservative Club for Growth is urging all members of the House to vote "NO" on the   clean debt ceiling increase. The vote will be included in the Club's 2014 Congressional Scorecard.

“When we heard that House leadership was scheduling a clean debt ceiling increase, we thought it was a joke,” said an official of the organization. “But it's not. Something is very wrong with House leadership, or with the Republican Party. This is not a bill that advocates of limited government should schedule or support.”

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