How a Fiscal Truce Rekindled Republicans’ Civil War

PHOTO: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks in Washington, Oct. 11, 2013.| Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 14, 2013.

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill were looking for a fiscal truce. But they closed out the week having spurred another round in the Republican Party's long-running civil war.

House Speaker John Boehner was bearing the scars of the endless budget battles of the past three years when he announced that he would give up trying to get anything in return for an increase to the nation's borrowing limit.

He would be breaking his own "Boehner Rule," which demanded budget cuts equal to the size of any debt-limit increases. He would also be violating the more famous "Hastert Rule," dictating that only bills that have the support of a majority of the ruling party should come to the House floor.

"The fact is we'll let the Democrats put the votes up. We'll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed," Boehner abruptly announced on Tuesday, after failing to get his conference to agree on something to ask for in return for a higher debt ceiling.

"This is a lost opportunity," Boehner added. "So I am disappointed to say the least."

With that, and with a fairly minimal amount of grumbling inside his own ranks, Boehner let Democrats provide the vast majority of the votes on the new debt limit.

The same formula would have worked more easily in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Not a single Republican would have to vote to authorize more debt.

That is, until Sen. Ted Cruz spoke up.

"I intend to insist that it be a 60-vote threshold instead," Cruz, R-Texas, told ABC News' Jeff Zeleny. "I think it's an irresponsible course of conduct, to keep giving President Obama a blank check."

With that, an attempt at buying budget peace -- allowing Republicans to focus on more politically fertile ground, like the Obama health care law -- blew up into a new round of open internal party warfare.

The impact will begin to be felt in the Republican primary season, just weeks away, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., among those directly impacted.

Cruz's threatened filibuster set up an extraordinary scene in the Senate. With lawmakers rushing to skip town before snowstorms descended on Washington, the vote had to be held open for 59 minutes as Republicans struggled to provide enough votes to join Democrats -- to give President Obama what he wanted all along.

In a break with tradition, Senate leaders cut off the microphones on the floor and didn't read the vote results until all was resolved.

Sixty-seven senators wound up voting to move forward on the bill. Only after the fact, when the roll-call sheet was released, would it become obvious that GOP senators including John McCain, Orrin Hatch, and John Cornyn flipped their "no" votes to join Democrats. McConnell also voted yes, to move the debt ceiling bill forward.

Republican lawmakers were steaming. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the entire exercise was an attempt by two senators -- presumably Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah -- to "raise a lot of money for their PACs and their campaigns."

"That's what this was all about, and everyone understood that," Corker told CNBC. "What is the endgame? And there was no endgame. … It's unfortunate that things are the way they are."

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