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Boehner Will Bring ‘Clean’ Debt-Limit Bill for House Vote

U.S. News

John Boehner

WASHINGTON — Facing a rebellion over his latest debt ceiling proposal, Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday told House Republicans that he would bring legislation to a vote that would raise the government’s borrowing authority with no strings attached.

“You all know that our members are not crazy about voting to increase the debt ceiling,” Mr. Boehner said, explaining that his conference was frustrated with President Obama’s refusal to negotiate over a debt ceiling increase. “And so the fact is we’ll let the Democrats put the votes up. We’ll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.”

Mr. Boehner said the House would vote on Wednesday, but because of approaching snowstorms, House Republicans moved up the vote to Tuesday night, to ensure that all members could get out of town before flights were canceled.

On Monday night, Mr. Boehner laid out a plan to link the debt ceiling increase to legislation that would have reversed a cut to veteran retirement benefits. But conservative Republicans opposed the plan, and Republican leaders worried that Democrats would not go along, holding firm to Mr. Obama’s demand that no policy attachments come with a debt ceiling increase.

On Tuesday, the speaker gave up, a dramatic gesture for a leader who once declared the “Boehner Rule,” which holds that any debt ceiling increase should be attached to spending cuts of equal size. A House Republican who was in the room for the speaker’s announcement described the response as “stunned silence.”

“It lets the debt go up cleanly,” said Representative Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico, referring to his leadership’s decision. “And I’m not sure that’s in the best interest of the country.”

When asked if the Boehner Rule was now dead, the speaker replied, “I would hope not.”

“As I said before, this is a lost opportunity,” he said. “We could have sat down and worked together in a bipartisan manner to find cuts and reforms that are greater than increasing the debt limit. I am disappointed, to say the least.”

At a breakfast with reporters on Tuesday, Gene B. Sperling, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said the president did support bipartisan efforts to reverse a trim of 1 percentage point to cost-of-living increases for working-age veterans — at least for those already receiving such benefits. That seems to indicate that he would have signed a debt ceiling increase with that provision, although Mr. Sperling declined to comment on the exact legislation.

But winning a “clean” increase in the debt limit would be a clear victory for the president, who negotiated a deficit deal in 2011 under the shadow of a default, accepted a provision last year demanding that the Senate pass a budget in exchange for a debt limit increase, and now has won complete capitulation.

“I hope the tactic of threatening default for budget debates is over, off the table and never to happen again,” Mr. Sperling said, adding that the decision will be “a boost for confidence and investment in the U.S.”

Mr. Boehner explained the decision to go forward with a “clean” debt ceiling bill as a reflection of the political reality that he simply did not have enough Republican votes to pass anything more ambitious. Many of the conference’s most conservative members refused to rally behind any debt ceiling increase that fell short of an audacious wish list of Republican policy proposals.

“I think in the end, there weren’t the votes for something modest,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio. “There’s only votes for something bold in our conference.”

With his last-minute decision, Mr. Boehner, for the first time, will bring a “clean” debt ceiling bill to the floor without putting up a fight to attach various Republican policy proposals. But he rejected the notion that he had lost his political clout after the government shutdown last year.

“It’s the fact that we don’t have 218 votes,” he said after meeting with House Republicans, “and when you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing.”

He added that he expected almost all of the House Democrats to vote to pass the bill, though he said he would still need to muster about 18 Republican votes to get the legislation over the finish line.

“We’re going to have to find them,” Mr. Boehner said. “I’ll be one.”

Mr. Boehner’s mood, however, was grim, and laced with dark humor. Walking into his news conference Tuesday morning, he offered a repetitive one-word greeting: “Happy, happy, happy.” And as he walked out, he half-sung, half-stated lyrics from the 1940s Disney animated movie “Song of the South.”

“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay, my, oh my, what a wonderful day,” Mr. Boehner said, before stepping out into the chilly gray morning. “Plenty of sunshine coming my way.”

Read the article at the New York Times: http://ow.ly/twLMv

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