GOP Clears Way to Lift Debt Limit

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Boehner, in Reversal, Drops Policy Demands as House Passes ‘Clean’ Bill; Senate Could Vote Wednesday.

The House on Tuesday approved a bill to extend the federal government’s borrowing authority with no strings attached, after Republican leaders dropped all policy demands to avoid a market-rattling confrontation in an election year.

The measure, which would suspend the debt limit and allow the government to borrow until March 16, 2015, marked a retreat from efforts by House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) to require any debt-ceiling increase to be paired with spending cuts of equal size or with other conservative policy demands—many of which were pushed by the tea party.

The vote was 221 to 201, with 199 Republicans breaking with Mr. Boehner to oppose the debt-ceiling increase. Only two Democrats voted against the bill. The Senate is expected to pass the measure, but the timing is unclear.

President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have long demanded the “clean” debt-ceiling increase, stripped of policy attachments, and Mr. Boehner concluded that the only way to move an increase through the House was to accede.

“It’s a disappointing moment,” Mr. Boehner said before the vote, attacking Democrats for refusing to pair spending cuts with the debt-limit increase. “This is a lost opportunity,” he said.

But by avoiding a cliff-hanging debt fight, Mr. Boehner’s strategy may advance a central Republican political goal ahead of the midterm elections: to keep the public focused on the problems of the 2010 health-care law, which Republican candidates across the country are trying to pin on Democrats.

Congress has been aiming to pass a debt-limit increase before Feb. 27, the date the Treasury says it will run out of tools to continue paying the government’s bills. Congress is in recess next week, pressuring lawmakers to act quickly to avoid the need for 11th-hour action at the end of the month. The Treasury on Tuesday said the federal government holds $17.212 trillion in public debt.

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