WASHINGTON - Unable to corral his restive troops around a debt ceiling plan, Speaker John A. Boehner announced Tuesday he would bring a bill to the House floor to allow continued federal borrowing with no strings attached.
A vote is set for Wednesday on the measure. Boehner will need to rely on Democrats for passage since many GOP legislators continue to oppose any effort to lift the ceiling on federal debt.
[Updated at 8:38 a.m. Feb. 11: Boehner subsequently announced that the vote would take place Tuesday night due to a snow storm expected to hit Washington Wednesday.]
Democrats are expected to back the debt limit increase, which the Treasury has said needs to pass by Feb. 27 to continue paying the nation's bills and avoid a catastrophic debt default.
With the House about to recess for more than a week, Boehner was racing the clock to devise a plan. Republicans had wanted to tie the debt ceiling increase to a demand for changes in some government policy, but they failed to agree on what to ask for. That inability underscored the difficulty Boehner continues to have in leading his majority.
Republicans shelved a last-ditch effort to tie the debt increase to legislation that would have reversed a 1% cost-of-living adjustment for younger retired military personnel after finding it did not have enough support to pass. Many lawmakers want to undo the cut, but were unwilling to vote for the debt ceiling increase even with the repeal measure attached.
The House GOP leadership team announced the fallback position at a private morning meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday.
"We will be bringing up a ‘clean’ debt limit bill tomorrow," said a source in the room, unauthorized to speak publicly about the closed meeting. "Boehner made clear the GOP would provide the requisite number of Republican votes for the measure but that Democrats will be expected to carry the vote.”
[Updated at 8:10 a.m.. Feb. 11: Asked if the move was a sign of the GOP's weakening political leverage after last fall's government shutdown, Boehner said, “When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing.”]
Politically, some Republicans calculate that the decision could allow them to pin the extended borrowing on Democrats in an election year, rather than take responsibility themselves. But Democrats will use it to portray themselves as the adults in the room when it comes to making tough decisions about running the government.