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House passes debt limit

The House of Representatives has raised the debt limit on a vote of 221-201, avoiding the economic catastrophe that would have resulted if the United States had been forced to default on its debt. All but two Democrats voted for the measure. They were joined by 199 Republicans who favored default.

The measure had no strings attached, marking the death of the Boehner Rule, which House Speaker John Boehner had defined as the idea that Congress should not raise the debt limit without cutting spending by the same amount. Ironically, Boehner himself voted for the clean debt bill, proving that he was bluffing all along, but the vast majority of his caucus voted against raising the debt ceiling—a position that would have forced default.

Politically, the lesson here is clear: Republican debt limit extortion is dead and as Greg Sargent argues, it's dead because President Obama and Democrats took a principled position in favor a clean increase and stuck to it in unwavering fashion. Yes, they screwed up in 2011 when debt limit negotiations led to sequestration, but to their credit, the president and congressional Democrats learned from their mistake and refused to repeat it.

The net result isn't just a political win for for our side of the aisle, it's a win for the country, which will be spared the absurd fiscal brinksmanship forced on us by Republicans. There's no question that it's pathetic that this is something to be happy about (back when the president was named George Bush, there were 19 clean debt limit hikes), but given how Republicans have attempted to wield power, it is nonetheless worth celebrating—not just because we avoided disaster this time, but because Democrats held their ground on something important and because Republicans have finally publicly acknowledged that the debt limit is not a source of leverage.

There's also the added bonus of being able to watch another round of civil war erupt within the GOP, because not all Republicans are thrilled with the outcome. Various tea party groups are already attacking Boehner for allowing a clean debt limit to come up for a vote. The Senate Conservatives Fund is even calling for Boehner to be replaced (like Ted Cruz, they don't appear to know the difference between the House and Senate). But whatever happens with Boehner, the Boehner Rule is dead, killed by its namesake—just like he killed the Hastert Rule before it.

4:05 PM PT: Important detail: The debt limit is lifted through March of 2015. Instead of choosing a specific amount, the House bill suspends it through March of 2015, at which point it will be readjusted to the then-current level.


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