By Stephan Dinan
WASHINGTON D.C. – The House passed a “clean” debt ceiling increase Tuesday granting President Obama power to borrow as much as the government needs for the next 13 months, after House Republican leaders surrendered on their long-standing demand that debt hikes be matched with spending cuts.
Unable to muster his own troops, Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republicans, had to turn to Democrats to provide the necessary votes. The bill, which cleared on a 221-201 vote, now goes to the Senate.
The legislation must be approved by the end of the month, when the Treasury Department says it will run out of borrowing room.
Even as he advanced the bill and voted for it, Mr. Boehner washed his hands of the blame.
“It’s the president driving up the debt and the president wanting to do nothing about the debt that’s occurring,” the speaker said. “So let his party give him the debt-ceiling increase that he wants.”
Democrats hailed the vote as a victory and heaped praise on Mr. Boehner, who they said he put the country ahead of the tea party wing of the GOP by holding the vote.
Just 28 Republicans joined 193 Democrats in voting for the increase. Two Democrats and 199 Republicans voted against it.
“Once again, the Republican Party and their caucus has shown they’re not responsible enough to be ruling and governing here,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat.
Business groups, worried about the effects of bumping up against the limit, urged Congress to act.
But conservative and tea party groups warned of dire political consequences for Republicans who voted for the increase.
For the past century, Congress has imposed a borrowing limit on the federal government. As the government has run up record deficits under President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama, lawmakers have repeatedly raised the limit — though it’s often been a major battle.
As of Monday, the gross debt stood at $17.259 trillion. It was $10.629 trillion when Mr. Obama was inaugurated in 2009.
Under the new debt policy, the government’s borrowing limit would be suspended until March 15, 2015, meaning whatever debts are incurred until then would be tacked onto the legal limit.
It’s impossible to predict how much debt would accumulate, but the government has added more than $800 billion in gross debt in the past 13 months.
For Republicans, the vote was a major retreat. When he became speaker in 2011, Mr. Boehner vowed to use debt increases as leverage to extract spending cuts. He set a goal of matching debt increases “dollar for dollar” with cuts.