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House OKs bill to extend borrowing limit

WASHINGTON -- Retreating with a purpose, Republicans sped legislation through the House yesterday to avert the imminent threat of a government default but pointing the way to a springtime budget struggle with President Barack Obama over Medicare, farm subsidies and other benefit programs.

The legislation cleared the House on a bipartisan vote of 285-144 and would permit Treasury borrowing to exceed the limit of $16.4 trillion through May 18. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pledged that Republicans would quickly draft a budget that would wipe out deficits in a decade, and he challenged Democrats to do the same.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to approve the debt bill as early as Friday. The White House welcomed the legislation rather than face the threat of a first-ever default at the dawn of the president's second term. Spokesman Jay Carney pointedly noted a "fundamental change" in strategy by the GOP.

House Republicans cast the bill as a way to force the Senate to draft a budget for the first time in four years, noting that, if either house fails to do so, its members' pay would be withheld. They called the bill "no budget, no pay," a slogan, if not a statement of fact, since lawmakers would be entitled to collect their entire salaries at the end of the Congress with or without a budget in place.

With polls showing their public support eroding, Republicans jettisoned, for now at least, an insistence that they would allow no additional borrowing unless Obama and the Democrats agreed to dollar-for-dollar federal spending cuts.

The average American family "can't buy everything they want every day; they have to make tough choices. It's time to make Congress make the same choices," said Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.). Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Congress has "a moral obligation" to prevent a debt crisis that would hit hardest at seniors and others who depend on government the most.

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