UPDATE: Senate Passes 'Clean' Debt Ceiling Bill

UPDATE: Senate Passes 'Clean' Debt Ceiling Bill

UPDATE (2/12/2014 3:52 PM): The Senate passed the “clean” debt ceiling bill, sending the legislation to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. The bill suspends the debt limit until March 15, 2015. 

The vote to pass the bill was 55-43. An earlier procedural vote to advance debate passed 67-31, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) joining mostly Democrats to invoke cloture. 

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas forced the 60-vote procedural vote. Two GOP Senate aides told Breitbart News that McConnell forcefully urged him not to do so at a closed-door meeting yesterday.

According to an analysis by the Senate Budget Committee Republican staff, the national debt will rise to $18.2 trillion while the debt limit is suspended.

UPDATE (2/11/2014 5:29 PM): The House has passed a “clean” bill to extend the debt limit until March, 2015 by a vote of 221-201.

The vast majority of Republicans voted against the bill, while nearly 200 Democrats carried it across the finish line. 28 Republicans voted “yes.”

Speaker John Boehner, who usually does not vote, voted “yes,” as did Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan voted “no.”

Cantor blamed the debt ceiling increase on Democrats. “House Republicans need more responsible and willing partners in Washington so we can finally and boldly address our long term debt crisis,” he said in a statement. 

Ryan called the vote a “missed opportunity.”

“We need to pay our bills today and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow,” Ryan said in a statement after the vote. 

The House GOP’s inability to force even a modest fight on the debt ceiling prompted an outcry from conservative groups, including several calls to replace the current House leadership. 

“Today, Republican ‘leadership’ in the House completely gave up fighting for the priorities of the American people and once again caved to the demands of President Obama and the Democrats. This latest failure is just more proof that it’s time to dump the GOP leadership in Congress,” said ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell.

The 28 Republicans who voted “yes”:

  • John Boehner (OH)
  • Ken Calvert (CA)
  • Dave Camp (MI)
  • Eric Cantor (VA)
  • Howard Coble (NC)
  • Chris Collins (NY)
  • Charles Dent (PA)
  • Michael Fitzpatrick (PA)
  • Michael Grimm (NY)
  • Richard Hanna (NY)
  • Doc Hastings (WA)
  • Darrell Issa (CA)
  • Peter King (NY)
  • Kevin McCarthy (CA)
  • Buck McKeon (CA)
  • Patrick Meehan (PA)
  • Gary Miller (CA)
  • Devin Nunes (CA)
  • David Reichert (WA)
  • Hal Rogers (KY)
  • Peter Roskam (IL)
  • Ed Royce (CA)
  • Jon Runyan (NJ)
  • John Shimkus (IL)
  • Chris Smith (NJ)
  • David Valadao (CA)
  • Frank Wolf (VA)

UPDATE (2/11/2014 12:13 PM): Speaker John Boehner will bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the floor today, marking the end of an era in which House Republicans sought spending cuts and reforms in equal or greater amount to the increase in the debt ceiling.

President Obama and congressional Democrats had said they were opposed to even discussing spending cuts in the context of the debt ceiling. But Republicans couldn’t even come together with their own plan.

“It’s a recognition that we don’t have 218 votes. When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing,” Boehner said in a press conference.

House leadership began the effort offering to tack on relatively-modest GOP priorities like the Keystone pipeline on the debt ceiling increase. That wasn’t enough for the right, who wanted to go big or go home. “There’s only votes for something bold,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, a former chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, “I was willing to do something bold.”

The last ditch effort, announced in a closed-door meeting yesterday, was to add a spending increase to the debt ceiling in the hopes of garnering a bipartisan coalition that could bring the bill over the finish line.

That didn’t work, either, leading to an intense meeting with barbs traded and accusations of bad faith.

Now, Boehner will work to provide a handful of Republicans, himself included, to vote with around 200 Democrats to increase the nation’s debt ceiling without any cuts.

“I would hope not,” Boehner said when asked by a reporter if the “Boehner rule” was dead. But, he conceded, it was a “lost opportunity,” adding, “I am disappointed to say the least.”

The vote, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was moved forward to today because of a pending snowstorm.

The House will separately vote to reverse many of the veterans’ benefits cuts that were in the Ryan-Murray budget deal and “pay for” the spending increase with additional sequester cuts in 2024, five election cycles from now.

UPDATE (2/11/2014 9:45 AM): Speaker John Boehner will bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the house floor Wednesday, several members said departing a closed door meeting.

Original Story: After storming out of the GOP’s debt ceiling meeting and pacing furiously 100 yards down a hallway deep the bowels of the Capitol, South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan wheeled around to face a couple reporters that had managed to keep up with him.

“Why don’t you talk to my son?” Duncan asked, pointing angrily at his black iPhone. “Tell him about the debt that he’s going to pay. $17.3 trillion right now. This is him on the phone. He’s a Clemson student, I’d be glad for you to explain how he’s going to pay that back,” Duncan added, his voice full of sarcasm.

Duncan was irate about the plan Speaker John Boehner and the House GOP leadership team had just unveiled to raise the debt ceiling. Rather than use the must-pass vote to tackle rampant deficits, Boehner’s plan would actually increase spending now and theoretically “pay for” the new spending with more sequester cuts five election cycles from now.

GOP lawmakers generally received the plan poorly, and the mood coming out of the meeting was grim.

“I don’t think anybody grappled with anything. I just heard the same old arguments I’ve heard for three years,” said Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a close friend of Boehner’s.

Nunes went on to make what is probably the best real-world case for the new proposal. “Nobody likes any of this. There’s problems with every bill we put up. The leadership feels this one gives the best chance for Republicans and Democrats to vote for it to get to 218 votes.”

“What’s that spoonful of sugar that you need to help this medicine go down?” asked Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, a top moderate voice in the GOP conference. “That’s the elusive part of this thing. I don’t envy Speaker Boehner. He’s got a difficult job – nearly impossible – to bring 232 people together and find the votes that establishes the strength of our conference. We’re still trying to find that magic formula,” he added.

After several weeks of trying to find a plan – any plan – that could garner 218 Republican votes, leadership moved on to plan B – putting members between a rock and a hard place.

The Boehner debt ceiling plan reverses cuts to veterans’ benefits that were part of the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Normally, voting to raise the debt ceiling is politically toxic. Now voting against raising the debt ceiling is also voting to cut veterans’ benefits.

The revised incentive structure was not lost on the Republican lawmakers, who complained loudly. “Look, people who never want to vote for the debt limit also don’t want to vote against veterans,” Nunes said.

The predictable reaction on the right was, hey, we didn’t support those veterans cuts in the first place. Now you want us to swallow a debt ceiling increase to get rid of them?

As the meeting turned slightly nasty – with barbs traded and accusations of bad faith – it became clear this thing wasn’t even close to getting 218 Republicans.

It might be that wasn’t the goal.

“At our retreat, leadership was saying they wanted to craft a plan that was ‘no skin off the Democrats’ backs.’ That’s a direct quote. And I think this accomplishes that,” said Rep. Matt Salmon.

As the meeting went on, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to advance a bill to reverse the veterans’ cuts – no debt ceiling in sight – indicating that significant numbers of Democratic votes could be coming in to bail out the GOP.

It’s a far cry from the visions of reform that have captivated House Republicans in past debt ceiling fights. This time around, there’s even a small faction on the party’s right flank urging Boehner just to bring a “clean” debt ceiling to be done with the whole charade.

How did the Republicans get here, in a circular firing squad over a plan so relatively lame it’s worse than the status quo?

Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall, a sophomore lawmaker who has quickly climbed the leadership ladder to a plum spot on the House Rules Committee, wondered the same thing.

“What in the world has happened between August of 2011 – when the president and the Senate were partners with us, to both raise the debt ceiling, and try to solve the problem – to today, where folks say ‘no, clean debt ceiling. No problem, nothing to see here’?” he asked. “Drives me crazy.”

Matthew Boyle contributed to this report.

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