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Published: Thursday, 1/24/2013

House OKs suspension of U.S. debt limit

Kaptur votes against legislation; local GOP lawmakers favor passage

BY TRACIE MAURIELLO
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

WASHINGTON — Over objections from minority members but with the tacit blessing of the President and support of Senate Democrats, the House on Wednesday voted to suspend the limit on government borrowing.

The bill, which heads to the Senate, also includes a provision to hold lawmakers’ pay in escrow starting April 15 if they haven’t passed a budget by then.

The legislation allows an unspecified amount of additional borrowing through May 18 in order to pay debts already incurred and allows the government to avoid a first-time default for at least four months. It does not authorize new spending. It would suspend the $16.4 trillion cap on federal borrowing and reset it on May 19 to reflect the additional borrowing required between the date the bill becomes law and then.

Eighty-six Democrats joined 199 Republicans to pass the bill. Thirty-three Republicans and 111 Democrats voted no.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) voted no and released the following statement Wednesday: “The Republicans have again chosen to kick the can down the road. We need leadership on jobs and fiscal policy, not more gimmicks.”

U.S. Republican Reps. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), Jim Jordan (R., Urbana), and Michigan’s Tim Walberg (R., Tipton) all voted for the bill.

“It's time for Congress to get its fiscal house in order," Mr. Latta said, adding that House Republicans for the past two years have approved budgets, while the Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget in four years. “The Senate and the House have to pass a budget. If one of those doesn't pass a budget then [its] members will have their pay withheld.”

In an unusual alliance, Senate Democratic leaders sided with the House GOP. They promised a vote in their chamber, even as they declared the House vote was a victory for the Democratic administration.

“Republicans are in full-on retreat on fiscal policy,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said. The plan, he said, is a reversal for the GOP, which earlier threatened to allow a government shutdown before it would consent to increase debt.

President Obama repeatedly said he would not negotiate on the need to increase the $16.4 trillion debt cap, and he didn’t, Mr. Schumer said.

The President would prefer to raise the debt ceiling for a longer period but said that he “will not stand in the way of this bill becoming law,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Some House Democrats said the legislation is a gambit, not a serious effort to avoid the fiscal calamity that would come with defaulting on the nation’s debt.

“This bill was cooked up … when the majority party said, ‘We’re in trouble.’ ... So they came up with this gimmick,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said in a floor speech.

Republican Candice Miller (R., Mich.) said the bill would give Congress time to find a more permanent solution.

Now that Republicans have put off the threat of debt default, the stage is set for a battle in the coming weeks over automatic spending cuts set to take effect March 1 because of the failure of the so-called “supercommittee” to reach a deficit-reduction deal in 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said his caucus supports the debt-ceiling bill and would move quickly on it.

Blade staff writer Mark Reiter, Ann Belser of Block News Alliance, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is the Washington bureau chief of the Post-Gazette.

Contact Tracie Mauriello at: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292.



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