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Thursday, January 24, 2013 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.
House votes to extend debt ceiling, with strings attached
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Avoiding an economic showdown with President Obama, the House on Wednesday passed legislation to suspend the nation’s statutory-borrowing limit for three months, without including the dollar-for-dollar spending cuts that Republicans once insisted would have to be part of any debt-limit bill.
The measure, however, did include a provision that docks the pay of lawmakers if one of the chambers of Congress fails to pass a budget blueprint by April 15. That provision provided House Republicans with a rationale for giving in on the debt ceiling, at least temporarily.
“It’s real simple: No budget, no pay,” Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, said before the measure passed, 285-144.
More than enough Democrats joined Republicans to make up for more than 30 Republican defections.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said the phrase went back to Jamestown in 1608, when Capt. John Smith established the “no work, no food” rule for the embattled colony. Republicans have sought for months to score political points over the Senate’s failure to pass a formal budget plan for more than three years.
The debt-ceiling legislation — mindful of constitutional hurdles imposed by the 27th Amendment on congressional pay — would simply impound lawmaker salaries until a budget is passed or the 113th Congress ends, whichever comes first. And it would not require the House and the Senate to come to a compromise on the two spending and tax blueprints, which are likely to be very different. That will be the really difficult task.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, said he would take up and pass the House bill without changes, possibly by unanimous consent, then move quickly on a budget plan for the first time since 2009 to contrast Democratic priorities with the plan Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., plans to move through his panel.
“Democrats are eager to contrast our pro-growth, pro-middle-class budget priorities with the House Republicans’ Ryan budget that would end Medicare as we know it, gut investments in jobs and programs middle-class families depend on, and cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman. “We know that when our priorities are laid out next to Republicans’, the public stands with us.”
House Republicans appeared eager for that fight. For two years, the House has passed detailed but nonbinding budget plans that would cut domestic programs to levels not seen since World War II, enact changes to Medicare that would partially privatize the program by offering older people fixed subsidies to buy private health insurance, and mandate a much-simplified tax code.
Democrats have opposed those budgets while demanding a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. The budget resolution is a nonbinding blueprint for the eventual package of appropriations bills that detail government spending.
House Republicans say punting the debt ceiling to May 18 is not so much a retreat as a “reordering” of the coming budget showdowns. House Republicans now take for granted that the first deadline, March 1, will come and go, and $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs will go into force.
The next real showdown will come by March 27, when the stopgap measure financing the government expires. Republicans have made clear that they are willing to let the government shut down to force deep spending cuts or changes to Medicare and Social Security that would bring down deficits.
“We know with certainty that a debt crisis is coming to America. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” Ryan said. “And if there is a debt crisis, those who get hurt the worst are the ones who need government the most, our seniors, the poor.”
Such continuing brinkmanship brought a rebuke from Murray, who said Republicans were trying to have it both ways, forcing Senate Democrats to move forward in an orderly way with a budget plan by mid-April, but threatening the next budget crisis weeks before that.
The pay provision brought its own protests. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called it “institutionalized bribery,” because it effectively says, do what Republicans want or do not get paid. That was why the nation passed the 27th Amendment, which said congressional pay cannot be varied within a single Congress.
But the “no budget, no pay” mantra had bipartisan appeal. Senators, including Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., introduced their own version Wednesday.
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