House Speaker John A. Boehner called it a “disappointing moment” Tuesday after he reversed course again and said he will ask his colleagues to pass a “clean” debt ceiling increase — admitting defeat and turning to Democrats to supply the votes needed to get it done.
Republicans said they’ll speed the bill to the floor later Tuesday, hoping to get it done before a snowstorm slams the East Coast on Wednesday. Airports had already reported canceled flights.
Mr. Boehner and his lieutenants have struggled with debt votes ever since taking control of the House in 2011. After an initial victory that produced the 2011 debt deal, the GOP has been unable to win major concessions, and is now poised for the first no-strings-attached debt increase of Mr. Boehner’s tenure as speaker.
“It’s the president driving up the debt and the president wanting to do nothing about the debt that’s occurring, will not engage in our long-term spending problem — and so let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants,” Mr. Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she’s eager to provide the votes for the debt increase.
“The Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution declares that ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.’ That has always been the standard upheld and advocated by House Democrats,” she said in a statement.
For his part, Mr. Boehner and his leadership team have struggled to come up with a plan that could cut spending this year and earn the votes of the GOP, but he and his lieutenants were also unwilling to see the government face a potential debt default.
The government will hit is borrowing limit later this month, and without an increase federal spending would have faced an instant, deep cut.
On Monday, Mr. Boehner had announced a plan to combine a debt increase with another bill that would have erased part of the December budget deal that included future cuts in the cost-of-living adjustment on military retirement pay. But after an overnight rebellion from fellow Republican, it became clear Mr. Boehner wouldn’t have enough votes to pass that legislation.
GOP leaders had to backtrack and decided they would instead call for a debt increase with no strings attached — something Democrats and President Obama have been demanding.
House Democrats have said they will vote for such an increase, which means Mr. Boehner only needs to round up a few dozen Republicans to clear the measure through his chamber.
Many Republicans argue that the most important thing for them politically is not to get in the way of their attacks on Obamacare. Getting involved in a debt fight could detract from that message.
But passing the debt increase without the support of most Republicans marks the latest instance where the GOP has suffered an internal collapse and had to end up accepting Democrats’ plans. Earlier examples included renewal of the Violence Against Women Act and tens of billions of dollars in Hurricane Sandy relief money, which was tacked onto the deficit without searching for spending cuts elsewhere.
Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, said the latest reversal gave him hope that Mr. Boehner might also do a turnabout on immigration — an issue where the speaker had initially signaled he wanted to act, but last week backed away from that.
“The House has come to the realization that following the hard right on the debt ceiling made no sense, which is good for the House, good for the Republican Party and good for America. We hope soon enough they’ll come to the same realization on immigration,” Mr. Schumer said.