Did Republicans in the House fold on the debt-limit increase?
- 12 February 2014
On Tuesday night the House of Representatives approved a no-strings-attached increase in the amount the US government can borrow to pay for approved spending - a clean debt-limit expansion, as it's called.
Although the measure was brought to the floor by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, it wouldn't have passed without a lot of help from Democrats, with 193 out of 200 voting yes. Only 28 Republicans approved the bill, as 199 voted against.
The fact that the measure passed relatively quietly and quickly was in contrast to the pitched battle to extract concessions from President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats that pushed the US government to the brink of default last autumn.
According to reports, when Mr Boehner told Republican representatives that he would not allow such brinkmanship this time around, the members of his caucus met his remarks with stony silence.
The disillusionment in the measure among hard-line conservatives was reflected in commentary before and after its passage.
"When we heard that House leadership was scheduling a clean debt ceiling increase, we thought it was a joke," the conservative Club for Growth writes in a statement. "But it's not. Something is very wrong with House leadership, or with the Republican Party. This is not a bill that advocates of limited government should schedule or support."
Romina Boccia of Heritage Action writes:
This blank check debt limit bill is very bad news for taxpayers. With it, Congress would abdicate not only its constitutional power to control the borrowing of the U.S. government, but it also signals a return to the destructive days of bipartisan agreements that increase spending and the debt.
The editors of Investor's Business Daily contend that Mr Boehner gave up too easily. "Couldn't he have fought just a little?" they ask. By not putting up more opposition, they continue, Republicans are "risking being seen as spineless."
"US gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White may not have won a medal this week in Sochi, but he didn't look at the daunting half-pipe course before him and refuse to try," they write (possibly forgetting that White passed on competing in another snowboarding event this week because he considered the course too dangerous).
The debt-limit vote has the editors of the Wall Street Journal saying that enough is enough - it's time to do away with the debt limit entirely.
"Republicans are never willing to shoot their debt-limit hostage, so the limit has now become Democratic leverage against Republicans," they write. "Why continue the pretense of fighting over a debt limit that doesn't limit debt?"
Some conservatives are questioning Mr Boehner's leadership. Daniel Horowitz on Red State blog tells Republicans in the House that it's time to find a new speaker:
If you really opposed this deal, it is simply egregious that the sitting Republican leader would pass it with Democrat support. This is the seventh time Boehner has done so over the past year. It only takes about 50 members to call for a leadership election. Now is the time to put up or shut up.
Meanwhile Democrats are hailing the vote as a victory for their side.
Dan Wright on Firedoglake thinks that Mr Obama's tough strategy paid dividends.
"There's no two ways about it, Speaker Boehner conceded because President Obama and the Democrats held the line," he writes. "Apparently, to paraphrase the president, negotiating with 'hostage takers' is the wrong move. And, subsequently, saying you won't play their game can yield some positive results. Better to learn that in 2014 than never?"
This is a "step in the right direction", writes former Obama administration economist Jared Bernstein in his On the Economy blog, and Mr Boehner deserves commendations for his action.
"So, when an arsonist doesn't burn down the House [sic] do you praise him for self-restraint or just go about your business because, you know, you're not supposed to burn things down?" he writes. "I say you praise. I mean, as an arsonist, he's conditioned to being destructive."
With congressional midterm elections looming in November and party primaries just around the corner, Republicans leaders were likely anxious to make the debt limit issue go away. But why did the Tea Party conservatives in Congress not put up more of a fight? According to the Washington Post's Jaime Fuller, it's because they learned the lesson that politics involves compromise.
"By the end of their first term, the tea partyers have figured out that politics isn't about winning," he writes. "It's about mutual dissatisfaction. When a bill gets passed, Democrats are supposed to get some of the provisions they want, and so are Republicans. When the White House lays out their policy guidelines for the year, Congress will often concede some points, while leaving others to rot. No side gets every item on their wish list in the final law, but they can be smug about the fact that their opponent didn't achieve total victory either."
He writes that this is part of the reason why establishment Republicans are anxious to prevent another wave of Tea Party Republicans from winning primaries and getting elected this year - they'll face the same kind of intransigence on the right flank that presented itself over the past year and a half.
Of course wanting to promote establishment Republicans over Tea Party candidates and actually convincing a restive grass-roots base to cast ballots that way are two entirely different things. The question now, it seems, is whether Republican voters will perceive the debt limit back-down as a compelling reason to ignore the establishment's entreaties and embrace more ideologically pure candidates.