House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democrats will provide “north of 180” votes for a clean debt-ceiling bill coming to the floor on Tuesday night.
That would require Republicans to win between 30 and 40 votes to ensure passage of the measure, which has run into opposition from conservatives.
“It could [fail], sure,” Hoyer said.
The bill coming to the floor includes no spending cuts, and would extend the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015.
The proposal is wildly unpopular in the conservative GOP conference, and an overwhelming number of Republicans is expected to oppose it when it hits the floor.
Attempting to downplay the GOP divisions and deflect the conservative backlash, Boehner – who has vowed to prevent a government default – framed the measure as a Democratic construct. He said Republicans would provide only “a minimum” of votes for the bill.
"We’ll let the Democrats put the votes up,” Boehner said.
The remarks were not overlooked by Hoyer, who said it's “pathetic” that Boehner can't rally more Republicans behind legislation authorizing the government to pay its bills.
“The Speaker of the House knows the debt limit must be extended and he's told the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and others that he won't let the debt limit expire,” Hoyer said. “Well, he's the leader of his party. He doggone well ought to get more than 17 or 18 Republicans to be responsible.
“I know that's difficult among that crowd,” he added, “but he ought to be able to do it.”
Boehner's push for a “clean” debt-limit bill marks a stark reversal of strategy by Republicans, who had taken control of the House in 2011 vowing to force dollar-for-dollar spending cuts in return for extending the government's borrowing authority.
GOP leaders on Monday unveiled a package tying the debt-limit hike to a proposal replacing more than $6 billion in military pension cuts enacted as part of the December budget deal. But faced with strong conservative resistance – and getting no help from Democrats demanding a clean bill – the Republicans scrapped that plan Tuesday morning.
"We don’t have 218 votes, and when you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing,” Boehner said.
The Republicans are expected to stage a separate vote on the military pensions language.
Hoyer said he'll vote against that bill, citing the extension of certain sequester cuts that would cover the cost of restoring the military benefits. But he said it's too early to know where the rest of his caucus stands on the issue.
“We haven't counted on it,” Hoyer said, “so I don't know.”
Noting that most Republicans supported a December budget deal negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Hoyer accused the GOP of now failing to pay for the spending it authorized.
“The Republicans, Paul Ryan, just passed a budget with a majority of their votes, and said we're going to spend money on things. A few days later, they're going to reject paying for it,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. “That is irresponsible. It is not adult behavior. And it is damaging to America's reputation throughout the world.
“There are no good consequences to that irresponsibility,” he added, “except giving some support to political demagoguery in the coming days and weeks, which I fully expect.”