WASHINGTON (AP) ― House Republicans backed away from a battle over the government’s debt cap on Tuesday and permitted President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies to drive quick passage of a measure to increase the government’s borrowing ability to pay its bills and avoid a default ahead of the November elections.
The 221-201 vote came hours after Republican House leader John Boehner announced that his fractured party would relent.
Just 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner. But 193 Democrats more than compensated for the low support among Republicans.
Tuesday’s developments amount to a bitter defeat for the Republicans who have sought to use must-pass debt ceiling legislation measures as leverage to force spending cuts on Democrats. Republicans won more than $2 trillion in spending cuts in a 2011 showdown, but gave Obama two debt limit increase last years with only modest legislative add-ons.
Ahead of congressional elections, both political parties have backed off the bitter fiscal battles that have gripped Washington in recent years. Faced with a tough battle over control of the Senate in particular, neither party wants to should most of the blame for Washington’s dysfunction.
The measure now goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate which is expected to easily approve it later in the week.
The White House applauded Tuesday’s vote.
“Tonight’s vote is a positive step in moving away from the political brinkmanship that’s a needless drag on our economy,’’ White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He said Congress should now take additional steps to strengthen the economy and pressed efforts by Obama and Democrats to restore jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed and to increase the minimum wage.
The bill would permit the Treasury Department to borrow money to pay the government’s bills normally for another 13 months, diffusing 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.
“The full faith and credit (of the United States) should be unquestioned and it is not negotiable,’’ said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.
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.
Boehner, made the announcement after conservatives failed to rally around his latest plan, floated Monday, to tie lifting the debt ceiling to a measure to reverse cuts to military pensions that were enacted less than two months ago.
Democrats insisted on a debt measure clean of unrelated legislation.
Earlier plans to tie a debt cap increase to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline or repeal of part of the new health care law failed as well, stymied by a group of hard line conservatives who vowed never to vote for increasing the government’s debt, which stands at more than $17 trillion.
The measure does not raise the debt limit by a set amount but would suspend it through March 15, 2015, to allow Treasury to borrow the money it needs to pay bills like pension benefits, payments on government debt, and checks for federal workers.
The move reflects a return to the old ways of handling the politically tricky debt ceiling vote in which the president’s party is expected to carry most of the load to pass it.
Boehner said his inability to assemble 218 Republican votes ― enough to win a floor vote ― for any debt limit plan left him no alternative but to turn to Democrats.
“When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing,’’ Boehner said. “We’ve seen that before and we see it again.’’
The White House applauded the move. Gene Sperling, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said the administration hopes Tuesday’s development means “that the tactic of threatening default or threatening the full faith and credit of the United States for budget debates is over, off the table and never is going to happen again. And if so that would, I think, be a boost for confidence and investment in the U.S.’’