Boehner Passes a Debt Plan That Won't Go Anywhere

After his fellow Republicans resisted, the speaker had no choice but to push a bill the Senate is sure to reject

John Boehner passes debt - Yuri Gripas Reuters - banner.jpg

After much arm-twisting and palace intrigue, House Speaker John Boehner finally managed to pass his proposal to raise the debt ceiling.

"I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States," Boehner said forcefully in a speech before the House voted, over boos presumably issued by Democratic lawmakers. "A lot of people in this town can never say yes."

His debt-limit bill narrowly passed by a 218-210 margin. Among his fellow Republicans, 17 voted against it; no Democrats voted in favor.

Boehner suffered a surprise defeat on Thursday night, as conservative House Republicans rejected his plan even as Boehner had seemed poised to pass it earlier in the day. After a night of arm-twisting, Boehner finally called off the vote.

According to the direst of pundit estimations, Boehner could have found his speakership in jeopardy, as tea partiers and conservative interest groups blasted emails to reporters and pressured House Republicans to vote against Boehner's bill.

To appease them, Boehner morphed his bill into something that probably will not end up anywhere near Obama's desk. On Friday, he added a key provision: a requirement for a balanced-budget amendment.

Boehner had proposed raising the debt ceiling twice, once now, and again before the 2012 elections. At the behest of conservative members, he placed a condition on the second limit hike. Under the bill passed Friday night by the House, Congress must pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution in order for the debt limit to rise again in 2012. Passing an amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate -- a level of support that simply does not exist.

The speaker pushed his bill closer to the failed "Cut, Cap and Balance" legislation, preferred by tea partiers, that passed the House 10 days ago and failed 46-51 in the Democrat-controlled Senate soon after.

The same will probably happen to Boehner's latest plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not expected to bring Boehner's plan up for a vote. Because passing a bill can take three days in the Senate, Reid is planning to introduce a new Senate bill and start the voting process this weekend, aiming for Monday passage.

By placating the conservative members of his coalition, Boehner saved his own political skin, but he all but ensured that his plan won't be the ultimate debt-ceiling solution.

He didn't seem to have much choice. In the end, the speaker brought to the floor a bill that reflected the will of House Republicans.