WASHINGTON — Ending three years of brinkmanship in which the threat of a devastating default on the nation’s debt was used to wring conservative concessions from President Obama, the House voted Tuesday to raise the government’s borrowing limit until March 2015, without any conditions.
The vote — 221 to 201 — relied almost entirely on Democrats in the Republican-controlled House to carry the measure and represented the first debt ceiling increase since 2009 that was not attached to other legislation. Only 28 Republicans voted yes, and only two Democrats voted no.
Simply by holding the vote, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio effectively ended a three-year Tea Party-inspired era of budget showdowns that had raised the threat of default and government shutdowns, rattled economic confidence, and brought serious scrutiny from other nations questioning Washington’s ability to govern. In the process, though, Boehner also set off a series of reprisals from fellow Republican congressmen and outside groups that showcased the party’s deep internal divisions.
“He gave the president exactly what he wanted, which is exactly what the Republican Party said we did not want,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who last year unsuccessfully tried to rally enough support to derail Boehner’s reelection as speaker. “And so again, when you give Nancy Pelosi exactly the votes she wants, she’s going to be happy to take it. But it’s going to really demoralize the base.”
The vote was a victory for Obama, Democrats, and those Senate Republicans who have argued that spending money for previously incurred obligations was essential for the financial standing of the federal government.
“Tonight’s vote is a positive step in moving away from the political brinkmanship that’s a needless drag on our economy,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.
But outside Republican groups were critical of the speaker. Both the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, for example, had put out a “key vote” alert urging members to vote against the measure.
“A clean debt ceiling is a complete capitulation on the speaker’s part and demonstrates that he has lost the ability to lead the House of Representatives, let alone his own party,” said Jenny Beth Martin, cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots. “It is time for him to go.”
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, commended the speaker and promised to pass the bill as soon as possible.
“We’re happy to see the House is legislating the way they should have legislated for a long time,” he said.
Boehner stunned House Republicans on Tuesday morning when he dropped a package that would have tied the debt ceiling increase to a repeal of cuts to military retirement pensions that had been approved in December and announced he would put a “clean” debt ceiling increase up for a vote.
Enough Republicans had balked at that package when it was presented Monday night to persuade the speaker he had no choice but to turn to the Democratic minority.
For Boehner it was a potentially momentous decision. Conservative activists, including The Tea Party Patriots, are circulating petitions to end Boehner’s speakership.
And it was Boehner who raised such high expectations around the debt limit. In 2011, he established what has become known as the “Boehner Rule”: Any debt ceiling increase was supposed to be offset by an equivalent spending cut.
“This is a lost opportunity,” the speaker said. “We could have sat down and worked together in a bipartisan manner to find cuts and reforms that are greater than increasing the debt limit. I am disappointed, to say the least.”
The ramifications for Boehner are unclear. The speaker’s supporters commended him for shepherding through an increase in the government’s borrowing authority quickly and with as little damage as could be expected for his party, for the economy, and the country. They said Obama left leaders no choice once he dug in and refused to negotiate a deficit reduction deal attached to a debt-ceiling increase.
The 28 Republicans who supported the bill were a coalition cobbled together from Republican leadership, moderates, and retiring members. Notably, however, not all of the top Republican leadership team voted for the measure — Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the number four House Republican, and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, both voted “no.”
That left allies of the speaker fuming that political considerations had left Republicans with no policy cover to accompany the debt ceiling increase.