WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives voted 221-201 to increase the nation’s debt limit Tuesday afternoon after Republican leaders gave up trying to attach political strings to the proposal.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, admitted Tuesday morning that he could not generate the 218-vote majority from his party for any proposal he had discussed with his caucus.
Boehner said he would let Democrats provide most of the votes for passage of a bill that increases the debt limit through March 2015. The final vote included 193 Democrats and 28 Republicans.
Minnesota’s delegation split along party lines. Democrats Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz voted to raised the debt limit to ensure the nation can pay its existing financial obligations.
Republicans Erik Paulsen, John Kline and Michele Bachmann voted against the measure.
Raising the debt ceiling was the House’s only realistic choice, said Nolan, who represents Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District.
“Congress authorized and appropriated the spending and it’s our obligation to pay the bills,” Nolan said in an interview before the vote.
In a statement after the vote, Kline countered with a criticism of the national deficit. “Our record-high debt is as much the result of failed leadership as it is failed policies that grew government instead of our economy and the Minnesotans I represent are demanding we change course,” he said.
The vote’s narrow margin — three more than the bare majority of 218 in the 435-person House — surprised no one. Ellison said Republican colleagues told him in the run-up to the vote that Boehner would have a hard time gathering even 20 Republicans to support the bill.
“I could not support a no-strings-attached increase in the debt limit,” Paulsen said in a statement. “Debt limit increases should be paired with reforms.”
Virtually the entire Democratic membership of the House — 193 of 200 members — was needed to pass the bill. Republican House leaders, as they did to end last year’s government shutdown, relied on minority Democrats to do what business and labor groups generally agree must be done to maintain financial stability in the U.S. and abroad.
Raising the debt ceiling does not raise government spending, but rather allows the government to pay obligations already incurred.
Tuesday morning, Boehner announced that he would offer a “clean” debt bill, meaning the bill would increase the limit only — no strings attached. There had been talk of attaching a cost of living increase for military benefits that would be paid for by cutting some federal entitlement programs.
Minnesota’s Democrats all preferred the clean bill, but with the exception of Ellison they would have accepted some minor attachments.
The problem for a debt ceiling bill with strings was not Democrats, it was Republicans, said congressional analysts Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.
A group of Tea Party conservatives, including Bachmann of Minnesota’s Sixth District, opposed any debt increase that did not include major government spending cuts.
Similar demands in a 2011 debt ceiling debate led to fears of default, threats to downgrade U.S. credit ratings and disrupted stock prices.
Bachmann said in a statement Tuesday that she voted against the debt ceiling bill “to put the brakes on reckless spending.”
For Nolan, Walz and McCollum, the debt ceiling increase was needed to continue recovery from the Great Recession. Economists say a U.S. failure to pay debts could push the world economy into chaos because U.S. bonds are considered default-proof.
After watching the public overwhelmingly blame Republicans for an unpopular government shutdown, Mann said Boehner minimized his political damage by putting up a clean debt ceiling bill.
It was what President Obama, the Senate and the business and labor communities wanted.
“Raising the debt limit is necessary to avoid any question of a threat of government default of any kind, to allow credit markets to function properly, and to allow the economy finally to achieve some long-awaited momentum,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a letter sent Monday to House members.
The Business Roundtable, which represents top chief executives, including from Minnesota-based 3M, Ameriprise Financial, General Mills, Target and Medtronic, also wrote to Congress and the White House.
“In the near term,” Roundtable leaders said, “policymakers should address the debt ceiling so they can focus on implementing policies more fundamental to fostering economic growth.”