Cantor’s lonely vote for the debt ceiling increase

The House of Representatives passed a “clean” increase in the nation’s debt ceiling Tuesday evening by a 221-201 vote. The headline is how the measure was passed:

Twenty-eight Republicans voted for the bill, which means this debt ceiling vote was the most extreme example of violating the principle that the speaker does not bring a bill to the floor without a “majority of the majority” — the so-called Hastert Rule, named after former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who broke that principle 12 times himself.

There are a number of reasons why Republicans balked at the debt hike, but putting the hand waving and throat clearing aside it all boiled down to politics.

Which makes the vote of Rep. Eric Cantor for the bill all the more interesting.

Cantor faces a primary challenge this year. There are two challengers, but the one who has gotten the most attention is Randolph-Macon economics Prof. David Brat. Brat is lining up the usual suspects in his run against Cantor, namely those who tend to think of the majority leader as little more than a corporatist shill.

Expect them to try to make considerable hay over Cantor’s debt ceiling vote. Whether they are able to turn it into support for their preferred alternative candidate is an open question.

But considering Cantor faces this challenge from his right, why on earth would he give them ammunition?

Because he doesn’t think it will matter to the folks back home.

House Speaker John Boehner gave Cantor and the handful of other Republicans who voted for it some cover:

Unable to sell their conference on their latest plan to raise the debt limit, Republican leaders plan to vote today on a “clean” debt limit increase.

“We don’t have 218 votes,” Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters. “When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing.”

So Boehner put it all on the Democrats — while rounding up just enough Republicans to see the measure passed (and there was no doubt that a debt increase would pass, one way or another).

In a press release, Cantor portrayed the vote this way:

Republicans are the only ones who acknowledge our debt crisis and have repeatedly attempted to help reverse the dangerous spending trend in Washington. While controlling only one chamber of one branch, we’ve successfully cut spending and passed bills to encourage economic growth. It is clear that President Obama and Congressional Democrats prefer to spend more, incur more debt and embrace a new normal of slow economic growth and joblessness, and that is unacceptable. House Republicans need more responsible and willing partners in Washington so we can finally and boldly address our long term debt crisis.”

Following the script and making a tough vote for the team. Which is what is expected of him.

But how will it play in the 7th congressional district?

That all depends on the creativity of all concerned parties. The primary is four months away. This vote may have faded into the background by then. Once there, though, it will join a host of other votes that Cantor foes will attempt to say are proof that Eric is not in tune with the district. Or fiscal sanity. Or something.

But that’s a hard case to make in 30 seconds or less. If anything, the debt vote shows Cantor is confident the vote won’t make a difference in the primary (where he is the heavy favorite) and that he believes his opponents just don’t have the means or the moxie to turn it into something bigger.

We shall see.

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