WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s three Republicans joined the majority of their colleagues in opposing a “clean” debt ceiling increase that passed the House on Tuesday, raising the limit on federal borrowing through next March without attaching any policy provisions to it.
The final vote Tuesday was 221-201, with most of the “yes” votes coming from Democrats. Republican Reps. John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Michele Bachmann were among the 199 Republicans to vote against the bill.
All five Minnesota Democrats supported the bill. House GOP leadership had said a clean debt limit increase could only pass with Democrats taking the lead.
The bill came to the floor Tuesday night after weeks of internal Republican efforts to agree to a favored policy they could attach to the bill. The list of proposals reportedly included old favorites, like authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, to new proposals like ending subsidies for insurance companies under Obamacare.
As of Monday, GOP leadership had considered attaching the debt limit to a bill undoing recently-passed cuts to military pensions, but by Tuesday morning, even that couldn’t entice 218 Republicans to vote for a debt limit increase, something most conservatives oppose on principle. (The House did pass a stand-alone pension fix on Tuesday.) House Speaker John Boehner conceded that, “our members are not crazy about voting to increase the debt ceiling.”
Bachmann said she thought the Republican conference could have coalesced around a bigger plan if they’d have more time to discuss it. She suggested either the insurance subsidies or a measure calling for a Federal Reserve audit.
“This isn’t the vote we wanted to see,” Bachmann said of House conservatives. “If there was going to be a raising of the debt ceiling, we wanted to see something significant happen.”
But the calendar was working against lawmakers: Congress needs to raise the debt limit by Feb. 27, but the House recessed Tuesday night to dodge a snowstorm, and will be out all next week for President’s Day. Senators might vote on the debt ceiling bill Wednesday before leaving town themselves.
“We needed to have an extended conversation among the members of conference,” Bachmann said. “I know there was some disagreement with leadership. They believed we couldn’t coalesce. … I think we could have coalesced and found 218 votes, but we needed to have an issue.”
In a statement, Kline said, “runaway federal spending, deficits, and debt are barriers to our economic recovery, and the exponential growth of the federal deficit threatens the future of our children and grandchildren.”
Kline, who is facing an endorsement challenge from the right, had voted for three straight strings-attached debt limit increases. His vote Tuesday was a rare break with Boehner, for whom he is a reliable ally.
Democrats had called for a clean bill
Most Democrats have long committed to passing a debt limit increase if Republicans agreed to not attaching separate policy provisions to it, something that’s become a habit since the GOP won the House in 2010. In 2011, a debt ceiling deal yielded the much-maligned “sequestration” cuts; last spring, it forced members to pass a budget or risk losing their pay; a further increase was attached to the bill ending the government shutdown in October.
The last time Congress passed a “clean” debt ceiling increase was in 2009, when Democrats held the House.
Tuesday morning, Boehner said he was putting the burden of raising the debt ceiling on Democrats and blamed President Obama for not negotiating with Republicans on budgetary matters.
“He’s the one driving up the debt, and they’re asking, ‘Well why should I deal with his debt limit?’ ” he said. “So the fact is, we’ll let the Democrats put the votes up, we’ll put the minimum number of votes up to get it passed.”
In the end, Democrats said they were OK with that.
“I was sent here to make the hard choices,” Rep. Tim Walz said. “It sounds like Republicans want the Democrats to do it for them. Whatever it takes to get this right, to not hurt the economy and to do the right thing and continue forward.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry