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Out of options, House GOP settles on “clean” debt limit hike

Updated at 12:30 p.m.

House Republican leaders have abandoned plans to seek spending cuts or specific policies in exchange for increasing the debt limit after it became clear there was insufficient support for the strategy among the conference, a source told CBS News.

Instead, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will rely on mostly Democratic votes to pass a measure that merely extends the U.S. borrowing authority, but nothing else. A handful of Republicans will have to vote in favor of the bill as well to ensure it has enough support to reach a majority. A vote is expected on Tuesday night.

"Our members are also very upset with the president. He won’t negotiate, he won't deal with our long-term spending problems without us raising taxes, he won’t even sit down and discuss these issues," Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning. "He’s the one driving up the debt, and the question they’re asking is why should I deal with his debt limit? So the fact is we’ll let the democrats put the votes up, and we’ll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed."

The move represents a major concession by GOP leaders, since both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had indicated a debt limit bill would not have enough support to pass. But at the end of the day, not enough Republicans seemed willing to dive headfirst into another crisis that could end in the kind of backlash that occurred after the shutdown of the federal government last October.

If the House passes the so-called “clean” debt bill this week, it will move to the Senate. Since Democrats have the majority in that chamber, they will not need any Republicans to approve an increase in the debt ceiling unless some of the more conservative members mount a filibuster.

The U.S. officially ran out of borrowing authority on Friday, but Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is able to use so-called “extraordinary measures” to continue meeting obligations until Feb. 27. Still, there was a sense of urgency on the issue since the House leaves town Wednesday afternoon and won’t return until Feb. 25, just two days before the drop-dead date.

The Republicans had floated a variety of policy concessions they would accept in exchange for the debt limit increase, including an approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline or a repeal of the “risk corridors” in the Affordable Care Act, a provision that which enables the government to share in the risks and gains of the marketplace. Most recently, the House leadership proposed attaching a measure that would undo cuts to the cost-of-living formula for military retirees that were part of the budget deal negotiated last year. The measure, which saved $6 billion, was unpopular among many lawmakers who were uncomfortable with reducing veterans’ benefits. But the strategy did not attract sufficient support.

Democrats and the White House have long said they would not agree to anything but a “clean” debt-ceiling increase. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have repeatedly said their 200-member caucus will vote in favor of that.  

"We think no matter who the president is and who controls the Congress, the full faith and credit of the United States of America is not negotiable," Pelosi said Tuesday after leaving the Democratic caucus meeting.

On Tuesday, Hoyer said he expects about 180 House Democrats to actually vote yes. That means House Republicans will need to provide about 37 yes votes to get to a majority (three seats are currently vacant).

Even that number could be difficult, as conservative groups are already urging members to vote against the increase.

“With just days to prevent a default, Congress must act immediately. House Republicans have indicated that they intend to demand concessions in return for not holding our creditworthiness hostage a fourth time. To do so would be foolish and irresponsible. I – and the American people – hope that our Republican colleagues will use the next several days to prevent economic ruin rather than invite it. If they do, we Democrats will help them,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wrote in a U.S. News and World Report op-ed Monday morning.

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