The brinkmanship, the cliffs the default – it was all missing from the latest debt ceiling battle, which came to a close Tuesday night when 28 Republicans crossed the aisle to increase the country’s borrowing limit a full 16 days ahead of schedule.
The House of Representatives voted 221 to 201 to increase the debt limit until March of 2015 in a maneuver that went much more smoothly and quickly than most political insiders expected. The vote also was moved up because an approaching snowstorm threatened to leave lawmakers stranded if they did not get out of town by Wednesday afternoon.
The successful vote was a sharp departure from the bitter showdowns over the debt limit House Republicans have waged since 2011, when 87 tea party members entered the chamber. By and large, Democrats voted to push the bill across the finish line, but a handful of Republicans stepped in to ensure the country would not default on its debt.
“It is disappointing we are not engaged in a more serious discussion today,” House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said ahead of the vote. Even as he voted for the bill, he added, “It [was] hardly a solution to the looming debt crisis.”
GOP campaign groups including Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth pressured members to vote against raising the debt ceiling, and the Senate Conservatives Fund sent out a notice to supporters Tuesday calling on House Speaker John Boehner to resign for even bringing the no-frills bill to the floor.
The vote sets up a clear dichotomy between the two parties heading into the 2014 midterm elections. Republicans are hoping to use the vote to show that Democrats are radical spenders and assistants in helping President Barack Obama rack up debt. Meanwhile, Democrats are expected to take ownership of their ‘yes’ votes and use it against Republicans, as they paint GOP members as obstructionists willing to gamble the full faith and credit of the United States.
“Every vote against this bill is a vote for default,” Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said on the floor.
Democrats would need to amass a net gain of 17 seats in the House in order to take back control, but with few swing districts left to pick up and many freshman Democrats defending vulnerable seats already, most pundits agree it may be out of reach for the party. With fights over the debt ceiling and budget out of the way, Republicans also can use their place in Congress to force their colleagues to take uncomfortable votes on the House floor and tie Democrats to the Affordable Care Act, which remains unpopular with the majority of Americans, including highly sought-after independent voters."Getting the debt limit out of the way is a great move for Republicans, because every time they pick a fight on that issue, they lose and make themselves more unpopular in the process," says Dan Judy, a Republican pollster. "Republicans already have the wind at their backs headed into the midterms, and taking the debt limit off the table allows them to go on offense against Democrats on the issues that are going to matter most in November: the still-struggling economy and the disastrous rollout of Obamacare."
The Senate is expected to take up the bill by the end of the week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., applauded Boehner for "doing the right thing." And the White House has signaled it is ready to sign the debt limit increase in order to avoid a default. Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, said Tuesday that the vote signaled a welcome change.“The era of threatening default has to be over. The era of anyone threatening the faith and credit of the United States has to be over because it is not a partisan issue,” Sperling said during a breakfast with reporters. “Continuing to have an annual drama over whether or not our country might face default is harmful for our economic confidence at large and harmful for the reputation of the United States around the world.”