28 Republicans may now face the tea-party music after debt-limit vote

John Boehner
In this Feb. 6 photo, House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill. GOP leaders in the House on Tuesday backed a bill to increase the government’s borrowing cap without conditions.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Right-wing and tea-party groups already have House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on their enemies list, thanks to his stance on last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. One can only wonder what will happen to the rest of the House GOP leadership now that many of them have voted in favor of a -- gasp -- debt-limit increase with no strings attached.

The vote Tuesday was 221 to 201, with 28 Republicans joining 193 Democrats in the yes column. Only two Democrats voted no, alongside 199 Republicans.

Even some tea-party affiliated Republicans had endorsed the idea of a “clean” debt-limit bill on the assumption that it would pass mainly with Democratic votes. That way, they reasoned, Republicans could wash their hands of the distasteful affair and blame Democrats for piling on more debt.

Officially, though, tea-party talking heads were outraged at the vote.


“We recognize that Speaker John Boehner was unable to corral a House majority to insist on some budget reform,” said Tea Party Express Executive Director Taylor Budowich in a news release. “Unfortunately, that means the GOP has lost yet another opportunity to prove to the American people that the Republican Party will fight to stop Washington’s reckless spending. Instead, they focus voters on the need to continue to defeat incumbents who are unwilling to stand up and fight for the very Americans that sent them to D.C. in the first place.”

Maybe so, but really, the debt limit is just ministerial. Republicans and Democrats jointly voted to pile on more debt in December (through the $1-trillion budget resolution, which was about half funded by borrowing) and in January (through an enormous spending bill for fiscal 2014, which also relied on borrowed dollars). Raising the debt limit simply lets Washington keep its commitments and pay its creditors.

Regardless, more than two dozen Republicans are now in the uncomfortable position of countering the debt-ceiling demagoguery from their own party. (As I’ve noted before, the parties take turns playing demagogue on the debt ceiling, depending on who’s in the White House. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) notably did so in 2006, a vote he has since apologized for.) They will probably claim that Democrats left them no choice, and they’ll be right about that. But wouldn’t it be great if they said that they fight their budget battles on the bills that actually control spending, not on the one that decides whether the full faith and credit of the United States is worth anything?

Aside from Boehner, the GOP yes votes included Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), as well as committee chairmen Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista), Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).


That’s not to suggest the House leadership was united in support of the bill; to the contrary, Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) both voted no, along with 14 committee chairmen -- most notably Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), whose austere budget proposals have all relied heavily on borrowed money.

Many of the other Republicans voting yes had been critics of the partial government shutdown in October, including Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Carona), Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), Gary Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga), David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Peter King (R-N.Y.). So their support for the clean debt-limit bill is consistent with their previous opposition to pointless fiscal battles.

On the other side of the ledger, the Democrats voting against the bill were centrist Reps. John Barrow, who represents a swing district in Georgia, and Jim Matheson, who represents a heavily Republican district in Utah. Matheson, who supported the bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit in 2011, isn’t running for reelection, so his opposition to the latest increase is just, well, puzzling.


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