How The Tea Party Repealed The Debt Limit

Posted: Feb 12, 2014 11:00 AM

“When you don’t have 218 votes," Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said yesterday during his press conference announcing he would bring a clean debt limit hike to the House floor, "you have nothing. We’ve seen that before, we see it again.”

Just hours later the House of Representatives did pass a clean debt limit hike by a vote of 221 to 201, with Democrats providing all but 28 votes of the winning total.

The legislation officially extended the federal government's borrowing authority through March 2015. But, until Tea Party Republicans realize that their refusal to vote for any debt limit hike plan only empowers President Obama, the debt limit might as well not exist at all.

Which would be a huge loss for the cause of limited government. The U.S. Constitution and the modern administrative state only give the House of Representatives so many opportunities to shrink the size and scope of the federal government. And the debt limit used to be one of those tools.

House Republicans managed to use it to force some real spending cuts in 2011. Cuts that held up until Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave most of them away this January.

And Republicans could have scored another victory this year if only they had united around a reasonable ask in return. For example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) have both introduced legislation that would repeal the "risk corridor" health insurer bailout in Obamacare. That could have been attached to the debt limit. Or Republicans could have offered to repeal Obamacare's employer mandate, which Obama again refused to enforce Monday.

Either of these provisions would have been big wins for the cause of limited government. Republicans could have put themselves on the side of popular common-sense legislation that, in the case of repealing the employer mandate, would save jobs, and in the case of the insurer bailout, protected tax payer money.

But by stubbornly refusing to endorse any plan to raise the debt limit, Tea Party Republicans cut their own party off at the knees. Since the House Republicans failed to unify behind a single ask, the fight against big government ended before it even began. And Obama won.