Less than three dozen of majority Republicans joined almost all of the Democrats to pass the proposal that lacked any deficit-reduction provisions sought by the GOP conservative wing.
The so called “clean” debt-ceiling measure now goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote on Wednesday.
Approval by Congress would avert yet another of the Washington political impasses that voters despise.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said last week the debt ceiling must be raised by February 27 to ensure the full faith and credit of the United States.
Until now, House Republicans insisted that any increase in the borrowing limit had to come attached to deficit-reduction provisions.
GOP change in tactics
At a closed-door meeting on Monday, they discussed a plan to increase the debt ceiling until March 2015 — past the upcoming congressional elections in November — while also repealing cuts to military pensions that were part of the recently passed federal budget.
Less than 18 hours later, though, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters the GOP proposal couldn’t pass because “we don’t have 218 votes, and when you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing.”
Some conservatives opposed raising the debt ceiling under any circumstance, while Democrats have made it clear they would unanimously reject any measure that tacked other provisions onto an increase in the borrowing limit.
Without a purely Republican majority, Boehner decided to split up the GOP plan by holding separate votes on repealing the military pension cuts and a clean debt ceiling increase.
The House earlier on Tuesday easily passed the military pension measure, which now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
Some Republicans not sure
Republicans facing pressure from conservatives ahead of the November vote were reluctant to back an increase in the borrowing limit, a core issue for the political right because it represents rising federal debt.
Boehner sought to put the blame for a clean debt ceiling bill on President Barack Obama, saying the rising federal debt was his fault.
“It’s the President driving up the debt and the President wanted to do nothing about the debt that’s occurring, will not engage in our long-term spending problem,” Boehner said. “And so, let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants.”
At the same time, Boehner declared himself disappointed about what he called a “lost opportunity” to address unsustainable federal spending.
In the Senate, GOP leaders are urging against a filibuster of the clean debt ceiling bill.
By refraining from a filibuster, which would require 60 votes to overcome, the Senate’s 45 Republicans can oppose the increase in the borrowing limit without getting accused of obstructing the 55-member Democratic caucus from passing it.
If Congress doesn’t pass a debt ceiling measure Wednesday with a snowstorm threatening the capital, further debate was unlikely until February 25 — two days before the treasury chief’s deadline — because of a shortened House work schedule in coming weeks due in part to the Presidents Day break.
Republicans across the ideological spectrum agree that another round of political brinkmanship could harm their party after it got blamed for October’s federal government shutdown.
A recent CNN/ORC International poll found that 54% of respondents would blame congressional Republicans for a failure to raise the debt ceiling, while 29% would blame Obama and 12% would blame both.