GOP votes scarce on debt-ceiling hike

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has his work cut out for him in passing a bill to raise the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling.

The lame-duck Speaker needs to win 30 Republican votes to lift the government’s borrowing limit, even if the entire House Democratic Caucus votes with him.

{mosads}Boehner was only able to pull 28 votes the last time the House approved a clean debt-ceiling increase — and one-third of those lawmakers have since left Congress.

Now Boehner is even weaker politically, and he has little time to act.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has urged Congress to raise the debt limit before Nov. 3, when his team will have exhausted its powers to remain under the cap.

After that date, the government would be left with just cash on hand to pay its bills, which analysts believe could run dry as soon as Nov. 10.

The White House has refused to negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, and talks on funding the government appear to be on a separate track — giving Boehner little leverage.

Most observers see a clean hike by the House as the only way out, and they think Boehner’s decision to resign as Speaker was a sign of his intentions.

“Boehner took the bullet for the good of the party,” said Steve Bell, senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Senate GOP staffer.

Bell also thinks Boehner could win more votes to raise the debt ceiling than the 18 members who stuck with him in 2014.

“I think he’s got at least 50 to 70 members who will really go with him,” Bell said.

At the end of September, Congress passed a funding bill to keep the government open that did not meet conservative demands to bar funds for Planned Parenthood.

Most Republicans balked at the measure, but Boehner did draw 91 Republican votes.

Still, conservatives are warning that an effort to immediately depose Boehner as Speaker could be launched if a clean debt-ceiling increase is brought to the floor.

Battles to raise the debt ceiling have been a focal point of Boehner’s Speakership and have contributed to his declining support in his conference.

Before the Obama-Boehner era, debt-limit votes held less drama. The party with the majority in Congress typically delivered the votes, with the minority party expressing opposition.

In fact, many lawmakers engaged in debt-limit battles under Boehner were able to avoid a comparable vote in the years prior, because the House operated under a rule that automatically passed legislation lifting the borrowing cap by whatever amount was authorized in the House’s budget.

That changed under Obama, particularly after budget deficits soared during the 2008-2009 recession.

The House has voted four times to raise the debt limit since the Ohio lawmaker became Speaker in 2010.

Each time, Boehner and the GOP lowered their demands, and for the last three times the number of Republican votes garnered by Boehner has also steadily fallen.

Here’s a look at the votes:


Aug. 1, 2011

Boehner’s first debt-limit fight as Speaker may have been the fiercest.

The influx of Tea Party conservatives that delivered a GOP House majority pushed their leaders to demand a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in new borrowing — something called the “Boehner Rule.”

Obama and Boehner sought but failed to reach a “grand bargain” that would have traded tax hikes for entitlement cuts.

With Washington and Wall Street on edge, the White House and Congress then agreed to the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling and established a supercommittee of lawmakers to come up with $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.

Boehner won broad support from his party; 178 Republicans voted for the deal along with 95 Democrats.

But it came at a huge cost: The first and only downgrade to the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s.

It also led to across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester after the supercommittee failed to reach a deal.

Congress is today debating spending ceilings set by the Budget Control Act, with lawmakers in both parties hoping to pass a government funding bill this fall that would raise spending levels.


Jan. 23, 2013

The next debt-ceiling hike was a comparative breeze.

In the first days of a new Congress, and just months after Obama won reelection, 199 House Republicans joined 86 Democrats to suspend the debt limit until May 19 of that year.

The move was meant to buy time for broader budget talks and included the “No Budget, No Pay” legislation that barred lawmakers from receiving a salary if their respective chamber failed to pass a budget — a jab at Senate Democrats who had failed to pass a budget for several years.

That vote would be the high-water mark for House GOP support for a debt-limit bill during Boehner’s tenure.


Oct. 16, 2013

The government shut down on Oct. 1, as House Republicans demanded that a bill funding the government also cut off federal money for ObamaCare.

Sixteen days into the shutdown, Republicans bowed to a deal that reopened the government and suspended the debt limit until early 2014, effectively raising the government’s borrowing limit. ObamaCare remained funded.

The entire shutdown crisis damaged the Republican brand and highlighted Boehner’s inability to steer his conference in his desired direction.

Even after the damage was done, just 87 Republicans voted in favor of the final package. It was only approved because of the near-unanimous support of the House’s 198 Democrats. (Two Democrats did not vote.)


Feb. 11, 2014

Three years later, House Republicans failed again to win concessions from the White House for raising the debt ceiling.

Instead, Congress agreed to send the White House a debt-limit bill free of policy concessions.

With a midterm election looming, Boehner said House Republicans could not unite around a single proposal, forcing him to swallow a debt-limit increase. Only 28 Republicans, including Boehner, voted in favor of the bill, along with 193 Democrats.

The vote heightened the drumbeat for Boehner’s ouster, with some conservative groups saying it justified his removal. A little over eight months later, Boehner announced his plan to resign as Speaker.

Tags Boehner Jack Lew John Boehner
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