House Prepares To Rebuke Obama With Debt Limit Vote

Posted: May 31, 2011 4:06 PM

House Republican leadership will call a vote tonight on legislation reflecting President Obama's preference for a "clean," unconditional raise of the debt ceiling.  The bill will fail overwhelmingly, by design.  Boehner, Cantor & Co. want to send an unambiguous message to the White House: if and when the debt ceiling gets hiked, it will come at a steep price (namely, substantial, mandatory spending restraints).  Republicans say the move will also telegraph a seriousness of purpose on debt control to financial markets, a gesture they contend is just as important as the implicit assurance that the debt ceiling adjustment will eventually pass:

In a bit of political stagecraft, House Republicans plan to bring to a vote on Tuesday evening a measure that President Obama and the Democrats were demanding not so long ago: a clean increase in the national debt ceiling, unencumbered by any requirement that spending be cut.

Given that all Republicans and more than a few Democrats oppose any debt-limit increase that is not accompanied by some commitment to future fiscal restraint, the measure is doomed to fail. And for all the talk of economic crisis should Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling by August, the financial markets are likely to yawn at this vote — if only because Republican leaders have privately assured Wall Street executives that this is a show intended to make the point to Mr. Obama that an increase cannot pass absent his agreement to rein in domestic programs.

As the Times story notes, every Republicans is expected to vote to torpedo the bill.  It now appears that dozens of Democrats may do the same:

@jakesherman [Democratic Whip Steny] Hoyer will advise his members to vote against clean debt ceiling hike.

This tactical move marks a significant shift by Democrats, more than 100 of whom recently pledged to vote for this legislation, in accordance with the president's stated position:

Welch last month spearheaded a letter urging Democratic leaders to unite behind a clean debt-limit bill. It was endorsed by 114 Democrats. The potential economic fallout of flirting with default, he warned, is too serious to saddle the debt-ceiling vote with politically charged budget conditions.

If large numbers of Hoyer's caucus defect and vote with Republicans this evening, Democrats will have dealt a second embarrassing black eye to the White House in as many weeks.  Last week, you'll recall, the Democrat-held Senate unaninmously rejected President Obama's 2012 budget -- the only Democratic budget blueprint on the table.  Perhaps Hoyer can simply read a poll as well as the next guy; the public despises the notion of raising the debt ceiling at all, let alone without any meaningful included spending reductions.

Say, you know who else once forcefully opposed a debt ceiling hike?

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

Democrats will decry tonight's planned vote as political theater.  I'm eager to see how many of them will still actively participate in the production, reading from the GOP script.

UPDATE - A House GOP source informs me the vote is likely going to occur around 6:30pm ET.