Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has his work cut out for him in passing a bill to raise the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling.
The lame-duck Speaker needs to win 30 Republican votes to lift the government’s borrowing limit, even if the entire House Democratic Caucus votes with him.
Boehner was only able to pull 28 votes the last time the House approved a clean debt-ceiling increase — and one-third of those lawmakers have since left Congress.
Now Boehner is even weaker politically, and he has little time to act.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has urged Congress to raise the debt limit before Nov. 3, when his team will have exhausted its powers to remain under the cap.
After that date, the government would be left with just cash on hand to pay its bills, which analysts believe could run dry as soon as Nov. 10.
The White House has refused to negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, and talks on funding the government appear to be on a separate track — giving Boehner little leverage.
Most observers see a clean hike by the House as the only way out, and they think Boehner’s decision to resign as Speaker was a sign of his intentions.
“Boehner took the bullet for the good of the party,” said Steve Bell, senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Senate GOP staffer.
Bell also thinks Boehner could win more votes to raise the debt ceiling than the 18 members who stuck with him in 2014.
“I think he’s got at least 50 to 70 members who will really go with him,” Bell said.
If Bell is correct, then a clean debt ceiling hike will pass easily. The question is how much of a hike, and whether or not the four Senate Republicans all floundering in the 2016 GOP nomination polls are going to try to blow up our economy in order to make political points with the base.
But if Bell is wrong, and a clean debt ceiling hike can't pass at all, then the country will suffer greatly, and so help me the fact that I'm not sure if it will pass truly scares me. The combination of toxic Tea Party politics heading into 2016 plus Boehner's massive weakness makes me really wonder if we'll get through this without tremendous damage.
After all, the pundits have spent that last several months being completely wrong about the GOP.