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Has John Boehner surrendered on debt ceiling?

House Speaker John Boehner may be thinking of raising the debt ceiling with the help of some Democratic votes – via a bill that includes tweaks to Obamacare, a tax-reform plan, and some reductions in entitlements.

By Staff writer / October 4, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP


There are numerous press reports Friday that Speaker John Boehner has told some Republican House members that he won’t hang tough on a debt ceiling fight. He’ll agree to use a combination of Democratic and establishment Republican votes to hike the ceiling so as to avoid damaging America’s credit and economy, according to these stories.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Is this really the case? Because if it’s true, that means the worst-case scenario of the current Washington fiscal crisis – a US default on its debts in the midst of a government shutdown – won’t come to pass.

We’ll get to our judgment in a second. First, a public-service reminder: The debt limit problem is separate from the fiscal dispute that’s shut down the government, strictly speaking.

The government is shut down because the appropriations that pay for its activities expired at the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), and Congress hasn’t passed a funding bill to keep that money flowing. The debt limit arrives around Oct. 17, when the United States hits a legal limit on the amount of money it can borrow, meaning the Treasury can’t pay many debts already incurred.

The government shutdown has closed national parks. A breach of the debt limit could stop the timely delivery of Social Security checks and Medicare reimbursements, and it could freak out world financial markets dependent on the dollar as a presumed currency of stability in a chaotic world.

OK, back to Speaker Boehner. We’d say the stories that he’s soft on the debt limit are mostly true but have important holes, meaning some partisan fights on the issue might yet lie ahead.

First, consider their source. The stories appear to be based on the word of some Republican moderates reporting what Boehner has told them in private. That could be wishful thinking on their part. It could reflect Boehner just telling them what they want to hear.

Second, look at reality – Boehner certainly has. Any vote to raise the debt ceiling will require Democratic support. In that sense, he’s just telling the truth.

There is a hard core of 20 to 30 conservatives who will never vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. They haven’t in the past, and they won’t in the future. Period. They might not vote for a debt ceiling hike even if the increase has provisions that eliminate Obamacare, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service.


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