Illinois GOP reps give in on debt limit to fight another day
By Lynn Sweet Washington Bureau Chief February 12, 2014 8:30PM
Rep. Peter Roskam
Updated: February 13, 2014 2:22AM
WASHINGTON — Illinois GOP Reps. Peter Roskam and John Shimkus took a hit for the House Republican team on Tuesday.
They can afford an aberrant vote. They are among the safest of the safe members of the House.
Holding their noses, Roskam and Shimkus were two of the 28 Republicans who joined with 193 Democrats to give President Barack Obama the no-strings attached — or “clean” — bill he wanted to raise the debt ceiling through March 2015.
Roskam, who represents the west suburban 6th Congressional District, and Shimkus, whose 15th Congressional District stretches from Danville to parts of southern and western Illinois, are about the last lawmakers in town to give Obama a gift.
Yet they did in order to get the debt ceiling issue off the table and avoid a confrontation with Democrats. That way, House Republicans could focus on issues — such as Obamacare — that could be more productive for them in this election year. Having taken lumps in 2013 for the 16-day partial federal government shutdown and a battle over the debt limit, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had no appetite for this particular fight.
Here’s the backstory:
Boehner on Tuesday surprised the GOP members when he announced his big decision: He would allow a vote on a “clean” debt ceiling bill with a major provision: “We’ll let the Democrats put the votes up. We’ll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed,” he said.
During the days leading up to Tuesday, Boehner tried to put together a debt-ceiling deal with his own GOP colleagues, including the hard-liners who are part of the tea party movement.
To try to leverage the situation and force Democrats to bargain, Boehner floated within his own GOP ranks linking several high GOP priority items to a debt limit measure, such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline proposed to run from Canada to Texas and revamping Obamacare reinsurance rules.
Most of the time, Boehner, who controls what gets called for a vote, will not allow a roll call if a measure does not have the support of the majority of the majority. That is known as the “Hastert Rule,” named for former House Speaker Denny Hastert, R-Ill.
But he could not find the 212 Republican votes needed for any of the alternatives to pass on the strength of GOP support. (The usual number to pass a measure is 218, but absences and vacancies shaved it to 212.)
Knowing no House Republican wanted to give Obama a clean debt limit bill, Boehner told his GOP brethren he was looking for volunteers. Boehner put out the word: “If you are willing to vote for this,” give the top GOP leaders a call.
Boehner’s team was talking with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her squad to make sure they would deliver the Democrats.
The House GOP whip organization — tasked with keeping tabs of where members stand — was tallying up the informal canvass. Roskam, as the chief deputy whip, is part of Boehner’s team. Boehner ended up with some 30 volunteers, I’m told by a leadership source. But he did not need them all.
The roll call was 221-201, with all but two Democrats voting for the debt ceiling.
Roskam and Shimkus could afford this lapse. Unlike most of their colleagues, they have absolutely no worries in 2014 about their political survival. Nothing they do will garner them a primary foe.
Illinois has the second earliest primary in the nation and neither Shimkus nor Roskam have March 18 rivals; they face only nominal Democratic opposition in November.
Moreover, they have plenty of cash on hand in their campaign funds as of Dec. 31: Roskam with $1,043,239 and Shimkus with $1,029,953.
Roskam and Shimkus did their colleagues a favor with their yes vote. It allowed most of the others to vote no and at the same time get the debt ceiling monkey off their collective backs.
It was a split decision for Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
The Senate voted Wednesday to approve the debt bill and send it to Obama to sign. Kirk was one of 12 Republicans who supported letting the bill advance on a 67-31 roll call. On the final 55-43 passage vote, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., voted yes and Kirk was a no.