WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House will vote next week to permit the government to borrow more money to meet its obligations, a move aimed at heading off a market-rattling confrontation with President Barack Obama over the so-called debt limit.
Full details aren’t settled yet, but the measure would give the government about three more months of borrowing authority beyond a deadline expected to hit as early as mid-February, No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia said Friday.
The legislation wouldn’t require immediate spending cuts as earlier promised by GOP leaders including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Instead, it’s aimed at forcing the Democratic-controlled Senate to join the House in debating the federal budget. It would try to do so by conditioning pay for members of Congress on passing budget measures through the House and Senate.
“We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem,” Boehner told GOP lawmakers at a retreat in Williamsburg, Va. “The principle is simple: 'no budget, no pay.'"
The Senate hasn’t passed a budget since 2009, which has drawn lots of criticism from Republicans but protected Democrats controlling the chamber from politically difficult votes. The GOP measure would cut off or delay paychecks for lawmakers in either House or Senate if their chamber has not passed a budget resolution by April 15, but it would not require the two sides to reconcile their differences to keep receiving pay.
Obama and fellow Democrats welcomed the developments on the debt limit.
“We are encouraged that there are signs that congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle-class families depend on,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement. “Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt-limit increase without further delay.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also welcomed the development, but his office appeared to suggest Senate Democrats would not accept it because of the measure on congressional pay.
“It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage,” said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson. “If the House can pass a clean debt-ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it.”
In Washington-speak, a “clean” debt limit increase means a stand-alone measure without additional measures — like the “no budget, no pay” idea — attached. Jentleson said Reid and his fellow Senate Democrats have yet to decide how they’ll respond to the measure.
GOP leaders have been grappling with how to gain leverage in their battles with Obama over the budget. Boehner successfully won about $2 trillion in spending cuts as a condition of increasing the government’s borrowing cap in 2011.
Obama, however, was dealt a stronger hand by his re-election in November and successfully pressed through a 10-year, $600 billion increase on upper-bracket taxpayers earlier this month.
Other choke points remain, including sharp, across-the-board spending cuts that would start to strike the Pentagon and domestic programs alike on March 1 and the possibility of a partial government shutdown with the expiration of a temporary budget measure on March 27.
Failing to meet those deadlines would have far less serious consequences than defaulting on U.S. obligations such as payments to bondholders and Social Security recipients and myriad other commitments when the government confronts a cash crisis and can no longer borrow to make payments. That could cause a meltdown in financial markets and would inflame voters already disgusted with Congress.
Under Congress’ arcane budget procedures, a congressional budget resolution is a nonbinding measure that tries to set parameters for future legislation setting agency budgets and curbing federal benefit programs such as Medicare.
Boehner has previously invoked a promise that any increase in the government’s borrowing cap would be matched, dollar for dollar, by spending cuts or “reforms” that could include curbs on the long-term growth in retirement programs such as Medicare. Friday’s announcement did not repeat that specific promise.
“Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending,” Boehner said. “The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year.”
The measure picked up support from key GOP conservatives, including the current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee, a powerful group inside the House GOP.
“In order to allow time for the Senate to act, next week’s bill will extend the debt limit for three months,” the Study Committee said Friday in a statement. “This is a necessary first step as we work to halt the decline of America and puts the focus where it belongs: on the Senate who has failed to do their jobs to pass a budget for more than three years.” The statement was issued by RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., and former chairmen, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Tom Price, R-Ga., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Obama’s budget is due early next month but is expected to be released several weeks later.