House Republicans back away from fight over U.S. debt

Published: February 11, 2014

Unwilling to spook the markets and divided among themselves, House Republicans backed away from a battle over the government’s debt limit Tuesday and permitted President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies to drive quick passage of a measure extending Treasury’s borrowing authority without any concessions from the White House.

The 221-201 vote came hours after Speaker John Boehner announced that his fractured party would relent.

Just 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner and his top lieutenants. But 193 Democrats more than compensated for the low support among Republicans.

Senate Democrats hoped to vote on the legislation as early as Wednesday and send it to Obama for his signature.

The move was denounced by many conservative groups but came after most Republicans in the House made clear they had no taste for another high-stakes fight with Obama over the nation’s debt ceiling, which must be raised so the government can borrow money to pay all of its bills.

The bill would permit the Treasury Department to borrow normally for another 13 months, putting off the chance of a debt crisis well past the November elections and providing time for a newly elected Congress to decide how to handle the issue.

Just Monday, Republicans suggested pairing the debt measure with legislation to roll back a recent cut in the inflation adjustment of pension benefits for working-age military retirees. Democrats insisted on a debt measure completely clean of unrelated legislation.

“The full faith and credit (of the United States) should be unquestioned and it is not negotiable,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The vote comes four months after Washington defused a government shutdown and debt crisis that burned Republicans politically — an experience they did not want to repeat.

Oklahoma ties

How state’s delegation voted

All five U.S. House members from Oklahoma voted against suspending the debt ceiling.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said, “Over the course of my time in Congress, I have been willing to work with the president and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect the full faith and credit of the United States. In previous instances, however, any changes to the debt ceiling have been accompanied by meaningful reforms to spending or contributed to ongoing economic recovery efforts. Support for this legislation would do neither. Instead, it would allow the federal government to rack up more debt without reforming the drivers of our debt. That’s not acceptable."

Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, “I cannot support allowing us to increase our national debt ceiling without significant long-term fiscal reforms or a plan to prevent future debt ceiling debates. ... We must stop pretending our national debt is not a major issue even though it already exceeds a completely incomprehensible amount."

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, said, "This legislation extends the government’s borrowing authority until March 15, 2015, while ignoring our country’s mounting debt. It is critical that Congress focus on enacting serious spending cuts to help get the U.S. economy back on stable ground.”

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, said, "I could not vote to raise the debt ceiling because I do not support driving our nation down a road of increased debt. ... Saddling our children with a legacy of debt before they even receive a paycheck of their own is not good business."

Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau

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