House Democrats began bracing for the political fallout of voting for a clean debt limit hike, hours before the vote even happened.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who has long called for increasing the debt limit and pushed for a clean vote on the issue, nevertheless urged Members not to vote for Tuesday’s increase for fear they would be hit on the airwaves.
“I don’t intend to advise that my members subject themselves to a political 30-second ad and attack,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters before the floor vote.
Hoyer’s remarks amounted to political cover for a host of endangered Democrats whose districts will be targeted with attack ads from Republicans.
The fiscal conservative acknowledged as much to reporters.
“If the Republicans were prepared to work on a bipartisan basis on this issue, which is the only way we really do very tough things that are controversial, then I would be prepared to urge at least half my Members to support the extension of the debt limit, including myself,” Hoyer had warned during his weekly session with reporters. “But my advice to them will be not to play this political charade.”
In the end, the doomed debt limit proposal was defeated, with its 97 votes of support coming only from Democrats.
Democratic leaders spent the day blasting the process, charging that
Republicans were posturing to their base by calling up the vote and hammering the minority on the issue. The National Republican Congressional Committee plans to make the issue of raising the debt limit a primary focus in swing districts throughout the country.
The committee, led by Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), has two lists of Democrats to target: those who signed a letter calling for a clean debt limit vote and those who didn’t. The NRCC immediately blasted releases Tuesday night after the final tally was called.
“Now that Republicans have called their bluff, Democrats are running for political cover because they know Americans will hold their party responsible for the endless debt and borrowing they have racked up on future generations,” NRCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said in a statement.
The attacks mark a reversal for the NRCC, which last week was on defense following a bruising loss in a special election in upstate New York. Just as Democrats made Medicare reform a primary issue in the race, Republicans are looking to force the debt limit into every political conversation with constituents back home, positioning themselves as more responsible on fiscal matters.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.