House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Tuesday announced that he would bring a “clean” debt-ceiling bill to the floor, a recognition that Republicans do not have the political leverage to force a confrontation with President Obama.
The federal borrowing limit must be increased by month's end to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt. House Republicans would prefer to pair the debt ceiling increase with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts and entitlements">entitlement reforms. But Obama is refusing to negotiate, as are Senate Democrats, leaving House Republicans few options given that voters are likely to blame them for any fiscal crisis that might ensue if the two parties fail to compromise.
The vote is expected to occur on Tuesday evening because of an impending snow storm that is bearing down on Washington, D.C.
Boehner criticized Obama for failing to negotiate and do enough to rein in spending.
“It’s the president driving up the debt, and the president wanting to do nothing about the debt that’s occurring [and he] will not engage in our long-term spending problem,” Boehner told reporters during the House GOP leadership’s weekly news conference.
House Republicans expressed frustration at being unable to extract concessions from the White House, but leadership seemed set to avoid another fiscal crisis after polls showed that the public blamed the GOP for October's government shutdown after an effort to defund Obamacare.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act going badly and their 2014 electoral prospects having brightened since that showdown, the GOP is reluctant to risk another fiscal confrontation with Obama and played up the clean debt bill as a smart political play.
In the past, conservative lawmakers have directed their anger at their own leadership, accusing them of refusing to fight Obama over the debt ceiling. But on Tuesday, many House conservatives — including some ardent opponents of past debt increases that were not packaged with fiscal reforms or spending cuts — blamed Obama’s refusal to negotiate for forcing Boehner to move a clean bill.
“The fact that we're now facing a clean debt ceiling shows a failure of leadership by Barack Obama, who's refused to work with Congress in any way to address Washington's spending problem,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Most Republicans, including Scalise, though, will be voting “no,” when the measure comes up for a vote. House Democrats will have to carry the bill across the finish line if it is to pass.
Boehner highlighted the need for Democratic support, saying that because Obama refused to budge on his demand for a clean debt ceiling increase, his party's lawmakers must now do the heavy lifting.
There are about 200 Democrats in the House, and 218 votes are needed to pass a bill. Boehner said Republicans would provide enough votes to make up the difference.
But securing passage could still be a struggle, as conservative activists have played up the debt ceiling as a symbolic issue to highlight their discontent with Washington.
Before Boehner backtracked and settled on moving a clean bill, he tried to corral more Republican support by offering to pair the debt ceiling increase with a reversal of cuts to military pensions that passed as a part of the latest budget compromise.
Boehner proposed that plan early Monday evening, and it was dead by Tuesday morning.
“We don’t have 218 votes; when you don’t have 218 votes you have nothing. We’ve seen that before, we’ll see it again,” Boehner told reporters during the House GOP leadership’s weekly news conference.
Republicans support reversing the cuts to military pensions, but declined to do so as a part of a debt ceiling package.
The military pensions measure is likely to get a separate vote, however, possibly before the House adjourns for the week.
The chamber is scheduled for a shortened week so that House Democrats can decamp to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for their annual policy and political conference. The House is not supposed to reconvene until Feb. 25, two days before the Obama administration has said the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid default.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he expected at least 180 Democratic members to support the GOP's clean increase. But Hoyer blasted as "irresponsible" GOP's reliance on Democratic votes to carry the measure.
This story was published at 10:26 a.m. and has been updated.
Congressional correspondent Sean Lengell contributed.