GOP change in tactics
Until it happened, House Republicans insisted that any increase in the borrowing limit had to come attached to deficit-reduction provisions.
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, Boehner told reporters the GOP proposal couldn't pass because "we don't have 218 votes."
Some conservatives oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstance, while Democrats had 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 easily passed the military pension measure earlier on Tuesday, then passed the clean debt ceiling legislation. Both Boehner and his top deputy -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia -- were among the 28 Republicans who supported the measure.
On Wednesday, the Senate also passed the military pension measure after the votes on the debt ceiling legislation.
Republicans facing pressure from conservatives ahead of the November vote were reluctant to back any kind of hike in the borrowing limit, a core issue for the political right because it represents rising federal debt.
Boehner blames Obama
Despite his support for the proposal, Boehner put the blame for needing a "clean" debt-ceiling bill with no deficit reduction provisions on 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.
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.