House to vote on debt-limit increase

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WASHINGTON -- House leaders unveiled legislation Monday to let the government continue borrowing money through May 18, a step that would stave off a first-ever default on U.S. obligations. A vote was scheduled Wednesday.

The measure marks a change in strategy for House Republicans, who have backed off demands that any extension of the government's borrowing authority be accompanied by stiff spending cuts.

The legislation is also aimed at prodding Senate Democrats to pass a budget after almost four years of failing to do so. It would withhold the pay of lawmakers in either House or Senate if their chamber fails to pass a budget this year. House Republicans have passed budgets for two consecutive years, but the Senate hasn't passed one since President Barack Obama's first year in office.

The current debt limit is $16.4 trillion. Rather than set a specific amount, the bill would automatically raise the limit by the amount required to fund U.S. government obligations through May 18.

That date is not a hard deadline, however, because the Treasury would retain the limited ability to exercise so-called extraordinary measures and juggle certain accounts to buy limited additional time before a default on obligations. Such steps could add weeks beyond May 18.

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The measure's "no budget, no pay" provision would withhold pay for lawmakers if the chamber in which they serve fails to pass a congressional budget resolution by April 15.

On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate would pass a budget and would use it to call for follow-up legislation that would increase revenues. Under Congress' arcane budget procedures, a congressional budget resolution is a nonbinding measure that tries to set parameters for future legislation that actually stipulates agency budgets and curbs federal benefit programs such as Medicare.

Democrats have generally reacted coolly to the three-month extension, which would leave other choke points in place, 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.

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