Debt ceiling vote: A referendum on Boehner?

Fiscal conservatives who rode the Tea Party wave into Congress can't decide whether to fall in behind the House speaker, or reject his leadership

House Speaker John Boehner
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The House of Representatives will vote Thursday evening on Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the debt ceiling in two phases and cut more than $2 trillion from the next decade's federal deficits. (In an apparent attempt to avoid spooking the financial markets, the vote will take place after the markets close.) Tea Party conservatives are threatening to vote "no," saying Boehner's plan — which Democrats in the Senate have vowed to reject — doesn't cut spending deeply enough. Two dozen Republican defectors in the House would be enough to sink the bill, so Boehner is working feverishly behind the scenes to bring his caucus into line. Is the debt-ceiling vote turning into a vote of confidence on Boehner's leadership?

Yes. This is a clear referendum on Boehner: The speaker's "plan seems entirely designed to minimize objections within his caucus," says Jonathan Chait at The New Republic. And yet, Boehner "simply doesn't have the votes" or sufficient control over his members to convince them to change their minds. If it manages to pass, the bill — which keeps the debt ceiling hovering overhead, and delays the painful issue of raising taxes — may keep Boehner's speakership alive "for another six months or so." But every GOP "no" vote is a vote to relieve Boehner of his power now.

"Boehner's lowest common denominator plan"

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The vote is about Tea Partiers, not Boehner: "The Boehner bill isn't great," says William Kristol at The Weekly Standard. "But it does check Obama's spending for the remainder of his first term." Republicans voting "no" won't be hurting Boehner — they'll be hurting the conservative cause, and giving President Obama and Nancy Pelosi leverage to impose "worse legislation." That's not "principled conservatism," it's "self-indulgence masquerading as principle."

"A time for choosing"

Actually, this doesn't mean as much as some claim: "Pass or fail, Boehner's bill isn't the end of the line" on this mess, says Booman Tribune. Harry Reid's Senate Democrats will never go along with the Boehner plan, so ultimately there's going to have to be a compromise between the two parties. In that case, Tea Party Republicans might as well try to kill Boehner's bill now. "At least that way, they won't have to explain why they broke their pledges" not to raise the debt ceiling to back a bill that's ultimately doomed.

"It's about our country, not John Boehner"

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