WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner has privately told Republican lawmakers anxious about fallout from the ongoing government shutdown that he would not allow a potentially more crippling federal default as the atmosphere on Capitol Hill turned increasingly tense today.
Boehner’s comments, recounted by multiple lawmakers, that he would use a combination of Republican and Democratic votes to increase the federal debt limit if necessary appeared aimed at reassuring his colleagues — and nervous financial markets — that he did not intend to let the economic crisis spiral further out of control.
They came even though he has so far refused to allow a vote on a Senate budget measure to end the shutdown that many believe could pass with bipartisan backing. They also reflect Boehner’s view that a default would have widespread and long-term economic consequences while the shutdown, though disruptive, has had more limited impact.
Along with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, Boehner has long dismissed the idea that Congress would not act to prevent a damaging default, and President Barack Obama today called a default “the height of irresponsibility.” But the failure of the House and Senate to reach a deal ahead of the shutdown has raised questions of whether Republicans could be persuaded to join in raising the debt limit before the Treasury Department runs out of money in mid-October.
His comments were read by members of both parties as renewing his determination on the default and came as the Treasury warned that an impasse over raising the debt limit might prove catastrophic and potentially result “in a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”
Lawmakers said that in recent days, Boehner, who is under attack from Democrats over his handling of the shutdown, has made clear that he is willing to use a combination of Republican and Democratic votes on the debt limit if need be. One lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Boehner suggested that he would be willing to violate the Hastert Rule to pass a debt-limit increase. The informal rule refers to a policy of not bringing to the floor any measure that does not have a majority of Republican votes.