At his weekly press availability on Tuesday, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) hinted at Democrats’ voting strategy for GOP legislation to increase the debt ceiling.
“We will consider a bill called No Budget, No Pay Act, worthy of almost unrestrained derision,” he said. “Not necessarily a ‘no’ vote, but unrestrained derision.”
Not necessarily a “no.” The GOP bill, on the floor Wednesday, would allow the government to borrow to meet existing obligations through May 18. But it also includes a rider that would withhold senators’ pay if they don’t pass a budget by the April 15 statutory deadline.
“This bill is a game bill. It’s not a substantive response to a serious problem, in my view,” Hoyer said. “Having said that, I’ve made it very clear that defaulting is not an option. All the Republicans leaders believe it’s not an option. And so I think, in that context, I’ll have to look at it.”
That doesn’t fully expose his cards. But it suggests that Democrats are playing a game of wait and see.
If the bill hits the House floor Wednesday afternoon, and Democrats withhold their votes (or register an initial ‘no’ vote), Republican leaders will have to find 217 members within their own ranks to pass the bill. If they do, then Democrats can vote however they wish. If they don’t, Democrats will have to decide whether to bail out the GOP — accept their largely innocuous debt limit offer as is — or take a risk and vote the bill down. That would put them in a position once again of forcing Boehner to abandon the Hastert rule, and pass a longer-term debt limit increase, stripped of legislative riders.
We’ll let you know if and when Democrats signal their intent. But the Senate and White House have essentially signaled that they’re fine with either course of action. In the Senate, budget committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA )announced that she’ll put a budget on the floor later this year — complying, in effect, with the GOP’s demands. And the White House has indicated that President Obama would sign the bill if it passes both chambers.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.