By Russell Berman - 05/31/11 06:18 PM EDT
The House Democrats’ top vote-counter is advising rank-and-file members to vote against an unconditional increase in the federal debt limit to avoid political attacks from Republicans.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democrat, said Tuesday that members should not “subject themselves to a political 30-second ad attack” by voting to raise the debt ceiling when all Republicans are expected to vote no.
GOP leaders on Tuesday evening are bringing up a “clean” debt-limit bill — without spending strings attached — to show Senate Democrats and the White House that Congress will not authorize more federal borrowing without significant spending cuts.
The move has put Democrats in an awkward position because 114 of them — nearly two-thirds of the caucus — signed a letter in April calling for a clean debt-ceiling vote. Hoyer had indicated he would support an unconditioned increase, but he reversed himself when it became clear the vote would be purely symbolic and gain no GOP support. The White House also initially called for Congress to raise the debt limit and leave the spending fight as a separate issue.
“I don’t think this is calling a bluff,” Hoyer said, “I think this is giving their members cover.”
Democrats have assailed the GOP for holding “hostage” the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, and Hoyer read aloud a series of comments from business leaders and Republicans on the necessity of raising the debt ceiling.
He said if Republicans were serious about raising the debt limit, he would have urged at least half of the Democratic Caucus to join them.
The vote Tuesday, Hoyer said, “will not be an adult moment on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is being offered solely for the purpose of it being defeated.” The phrase was a reference to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who told The New Yorker last year that increasing the debt ceiling would be the first “adult moment” for the GOP majority.
House Democrats are scheduled to meet late Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the debt vote. Despite Hoyer’s comments, it was not clear that the party would vote en bloc against the bill. He said one option was for members to vote present.
House Democrats will be split by the vote, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) predicted Tuesday.
"This is a bogus political maneuver," he said in an interview with The Hill. "It's intended for political consumption."
The legislation is being brought up under a fast-track procedure requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. GOP leaders have said not a single Republican would support it.
Hoyer said he hoped the markets would not react negatively to the vote, and he noted that Republicans were bringing it to the floor after markets closed and that they had “worked overtime” to tell Wall Street to ignore it.
“They’re not even making a pretense that this is real,” he said.
The Treasury Department has said it has enough flexibility to prevent a U.S. default on its debt until Aug. 2.
Pete Kasperowicz contributed.