Huffpost Politics

Debt Ceiling Vote A Sign That House GOP Is Looking Toward 2014

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WASHINGTON – There were a few conservatives who criticized John Boehner's tactical retreat on the debt ceiling on Wednesday, but for the most part, the Republican speaker of the House was able to get the right wing of the GOP behind raising the debt ceiling for three months without any spending cuts.

House leadership aides told The Huffington Post that three factors helped them get enough of their conservative members on board to pass the legislation Wednesday.

First, it was crafted by a working group of House leaders including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) -- a team that is respected by many of the most conservative House members. Additionally, at a session in Williamsburg at the House GOP retreat last week, Boehner and the rest of the party's leadership made sure to set a few hours aside simply to listen to the concerns and feedback of all the back-benchers who wanted to speak.

And finally, a House GOP leadership aide said, rank-and-file members are beginning to wake up to the likelihood that President Obama's goal for the next two years is to make the GOP look as extremist and obstructionist as possible, in hopes of retaking the House in 2014 and having control of the White House and both chambers of Congress -- like Democrats did in 2009 and 2010.

A Boehner aide said that "there was a lot of talk [this week] about playing chess rather than checkers – and picking the smart fights."

"Republicans need to demonstrate patience and care. They need to avoid the traps being laid for them by the president," wrote Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House adviser who recently worked for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. "President Obama’s aim is to portray House Republicans as extreme to the point of being nihilistic. His hope is to go to the country in 2014 and blame the GOP for standing in the way of reasonable proposals and progress."

But outside the House, the GOP's right flank held steady as well. Outside groups supported the move or declined to attack it -– with the exception of FreedomWorks -– and the bill passed Wednesday afternoon, 285 to 144, with support from 199 Republicans.

Normally, groups like the Club for Growth would have decried passing a short-term debt limit extension that included no spending cuts, and the Tea Party members of the House would have revolted. Instead, the Club said they would essentially give House Republicans a pass by not including the debt ceiling extension on their congressional scorecard.

Chris Chocola, the Club's president, told HuffPost he wasn't sure if the debt ceiling move was a retreat, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) disparaged it on Monday, but that he was willing to give Boehner a moment to try to get his act together.

"The impression I'm getting is they're trying basically to have a plan and stay ahead of this a bit," he said. "There hasn't been evidence of a plan for the last couple battles … So it's a plan. We don't endorse what they're doing with the debt limit but we're not going to fight against it at this point until we see if they can execute their plan," he said.

"I don't know that I agree with their political calculation, but there's a plan. Going into the fiscal cliff -- if there was a plan, it wasn't evident to me," Chocola said. "It always seems to be a reaction rather than trying to get ahead of the issue."

It's far from a ringing endorsement, but for those in Boehner's office, it's a welcome moment where their base is not screaming at them.

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