After trying to wage a war they’ve already lost, House Republicans threw up their hands and passed a clean debt-limit bill on Tuesday.
The bill, which passed 221-201, suspends the country’s borrowing limit until March 15, 2015. Twenty-eight GOP members voted for the measure, which the Senate is expected to pass later this week.
The move came less than 24 hours after the GOP had unveiled a proposal to attach a reversal of military pension cut to raising the borrowing limit. That prompted a fierce backlash by conservatives who pointed out that the plan actually increased entitlement spending, flying in the face of the GOP’s argument that the debt limit should be a check on Washington’s out-of-control budget.
“It’s the fact that we don’t have 218 votes. If you don’t have 218 votes you have nothing,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Tuesday morning. By technically “suspending” the borrowing limit, the 28 House Republicans who voted for the bill avoided having to be on the record for raising the debt ceiling. But it’s essentially a distinction without a difference.
It’s the outcome that most observers were expecting anyway. Republicans, after all, just overwhelmingly voted to pass a $1 trillion spending package after losing the painful shutdown battle. But Boehner decided to let the caucus go through the motions one more time, perhaps to show them just how little leverage they have left.
Over the past week, House Republicans floated everything from repealing part of Obamacare to fast-tracking the Keystone XL Pipeline before the leadership settled on the military pension idea—the only idea that deemed to be politically palatable, precisely because it’s a reversal of the only difficult cut in the 2014 budget. Under fire from conservatives, the plan took another hit on Monday when the Senate unanimously voted to undo the cuts.
Boehner still blamed Democrats for forcing the GOP’s hand. “The president is driving up the debt,” he said Tuesday, before the vote. “He will not engage in addressing our long-term spending problem so let his party give him the debt limit increase that they want.”
But it was more of an obligatory attempt at face-saving than a political tirade—the last step in going through the motions of debt-ceiling theater. Boehner left the press conference singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to himself. “Plenty of sunshine coming my way,” he intoned. If the fever for destructive fiscal brinksmanship has finally broken, maybe it really is a wonderful day.