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Debt limit showdown averted in House

The House voted Tuesday to lift the debt ceiling and avert the threat of a U.S. default until March 15, 2015 with a bill that broke a trend for the GOP by seeking no spending cuts or additional policy items.

Twenty-eight Republicans joined 193 Democrats in voting “yes” for the bill, which was only stripped of extra measures after House Republican leaders abandoned a handful of different requests they might use to bargain when it became clear their conference wasn’t interested. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Instead, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, relied on mostly Democratic votes in an attempt to force President Obama and his party to shoulder the blame for the debt.

"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 House 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. Still, outside conservative groups were urging lawmakers to vote “no.”

The Senate could prove to be a different story. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, plans to push for a 60-vote threshold on the debt ceiling, which would force at least five Republicans to join Democrats and independents in voting to lift the debt ceiling.

"Under no circumstances will I agree to the Senate's raising the debt ceiling with just 50 votes. I intend to object and force a 60 vote threshold," Cruz said. "I think Republicans should stand together and do the right thing. We should have every Republican stand together and follow the responsible course of action, which is to insist on meaningful spending reforms before raising the debt ceiling."

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.

The House separately took up a bill to undo the military pension cuts, which passed with a large bipartisan majority. Ninety-four senators approved a test vote Monday that would do the same thing.

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