WASHINGTON — Unwilling to spook the markets and divided among themselves, House Republicans backed away from a battle over the government’s debt limit Tuesday and permitted President Obama’s Democratic allies to drive quick passage of a measure extending Treasury’s borrowing authority without any concessions from the White House.
The 221-201 vote came hours after Speaker John Boehner announced that his fractured party would relent. Just 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner and his top lieutenants. But 193 Democrats more than compensated for the low support among Republicans.
Both of Maine’s two House members — Democrats Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District — supported increasing the debt ceiling so the government can borrow money to pay all of its bills.
“Congress has manufactured enough fiscal crises in the last year and we don’t need another one,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “Defaulting on the debt is bad for the economy and bad for working families. It would likely drive up rates on credit cards and mortgages and cost the economy jobs.”
Senate Democrats hoped to vote on the legislation as early as Wednesday and send it to Obama for his signature.
The move was denounced by many conservative groups, but came after most Republicans in the House made clear they had no taste for another high-stakes fight with Obama over the nation’s debt ceiling four months after a politically damaging government shutdown.
The bill would permit the Treasury Department to borrow normally for another 13 months, putting off 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.
Just Monday, Republicans suggested pairing the debt measure with legislation to roll back a recent cut in the inflation adjustment of pension benefits for working-age military retirees. Democrats insisted on a debt measure completely clean of unrelated legislation.
Tuesday’s developments mark a reversal of the Republican strategy of trying to use the debt limit to force spending cuts or other concessions on Obama. The president yielded to such demands in 2011 — before his re-election — but has since boxed in Republicans by refusing to negotiate.
“I am disappointed that Democrats have walked away from the table,” said Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “But for as disappointed as I am, I cannot in good conscience let the Democrats’ refusal to engage lead to a default.”
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this report.