For Boehner, however, not all was lost. He placed the burden of extending Treasury's borrowing authority — not a politically popular vote — on the Democrats, and most members of his party got to vote no.
What's more, the decision helped remove a potentially damaging diversion. Republican allies in the business community have long pleaded with Republicans not to play brinkmanship with the nation's credit. Last year's threat of default, followed by a partial government shutdown over stalled budget talks, harmed Republicans in the eyes of the public.
Instead, Boehner and his leadership team have decided to keep the political focus on Obama's health care law, which they have targeted as the Achilles' heel for Democrats in this election year.
It was the second time in two weeks that Boehner swept away an issue that threatened to overshadow the GOP attention on health care. He had outlined principles on how to achieve an overhaul of immigration law. But faced with a conservative outcry, Boehner last week deep-sixed the issue, declaring that immigration legislation this year was a long shot.
"Boehner's thinking here is we have to pick the smarter fight," said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and former senior congressional leadership aide. "The smarter fight is Obamacare. If we get dragged into a protracted fight over the debt limit, like the one we saw over the government shutdown, it provides a distraction over the bigger issues the party can litigate."
Conservative, tea party-aligned groups immediately objected to Boehner's decision, calling it a capitulation and demanding that Republicans vote against the debt ceiling increase.
"When we heard that House leadership was scheduling a clean debt ceiling increase, we thought it was a joke," Andy Roth of the conservative Club for Growth wrote in an email to congressional offices. "Something is very wrong with House leadership, or with the Republican Party."