Endgame: House GOP Abandons Debt Ceiling Demands, Will Seek 'Clean' Hike

Posted: Feb 11, 2014 12:16 PM
Endgame: House GOP Abandons Debt Ceiling Demands, Will Seek 'Clean' Hike

UPDATE II - The House has passed a "clean" debt ceiling hike, with 28 Republicans joining virtually all Democrats to advance the measure. The vast majority of the GOP caucus voted 'no:'

Before conservatives angrily blame "weak-kneed" leadership for this outcome, they should read the original post below. Boehner's original plan was to attempt to extract concessions, but even prominent conservative members expressed a preference to just have the vote and move on.

Also, this is absolutely true:

***Original Post***

House Republicans' policy demands in exchange for hiking the debt ceiling have been a moving target in recent weeks. At first, they were rumored to be angling to get the job-creating Keystone pipeline project approved. Next, they were supposedly going to force votes on eliminating the insurer 'bailout' provisions of Obamacare. Finally, it looked like they'd settled on a plan to reinstate cost of living adjustment cuts to military pensions (those reductions were part of December's Ryan/Murray deal), and perhaps include the annual Medicare "doc fix." Most conservatives were on board with all three ideas in theory, but strong disagreements bubbled to the surface over whether to tie any of them to the debt ceiling. Conn has made the case the the third iteration of the GOP's strategy would actually increase spending -- which, even for a good cause, rankled fiscal hawks. When these sorts of quotes started hitting newspapers last week, the possibility of a "clean" debt ceiling hike (the White House's long-standing position) became significantly more likely:

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told the Washington Post Wednesday, “There is a pragmatism here…You’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. My assessment is that most of us don’t think it’s the time to fight.” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, suggested that the best route for the party is to let Democrats bear the brunt of the responsibility in extending borrowing authority, and also the brunt of the blame.

Those comments come from the right flank of the party, not the squishy centrists. Perhaps chastened by the political fallout of last fall's government shutdown, the GOP seems to have moved away from giving Democrats oxygen to take the spotlight off of, say, the sputtering mess that is Obamacare. The new sentiment: "Let the Dems pass this thing, vote 'no' en masse (for the most part), then go back to hammering them on the 2014 issues that benefit us." And so, a clean hike it shall be:

House Republican leaders told members Tuesday morning that it is clear their latest attempt at seeking a concession in the debt ceiling debate will not attract enough support, so they will be bringing up a "clean" debt limit bill Wednesday, according to several GOP people inside their Tuesday morning huddle. The move would likely avert a last-minute showdown over the debt ceiling -- provided Republicans can find enough votes to pass the bill. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has given Congress a Feb. 27 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, but recent debates have all gone down to the wire, with Republicans demanding spending cuts or other concessions.

Or will it?

What happens if Democrats play games with the vote, forcing Republican leadership to extract as many votes from their members as possible? Pelosi's crew has employed such a gambit on budgetary matters before. Also, can Pelosi and Hoyer necessarily count on all of their members voting for a clean debt-ceiling hike? Republicans will surely attack them for it on the campaign trail, and Democrats are already perceived (rightly) as the party of expanding government debt. If Boehner might struggle marshaling fewer than two dozen votes for this thing, what happens if the magic number creeps higher? Tune in tomorrow to find out. Meanwhile, the House Speaker is doing his darndest to put on a happy face as his caucus once again disintegrates:

Here's hoping there's video of that.

UPDATE - It looks like leadership is going to strike while the iron is hot, maybe because they don't want to risk yet another change of heart amongst their members: