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Obama likely to sign debt ceiling stopgap

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said it welcomes a plan by House Republicans to vote Wednesday on lifting the nation's debt ceiling through mid-May as a de-escalation of the fiscal debate.

The measure "lifts the immediate threat of default and indicates that congressional Republicans have backed off an insistence on holding the nation's economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and other programs," President Barack Obama's budget office said in a statement.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration still prefers a long-term extension of the nation's debt ceiling. Still, Obama "would not stand in the way" if Congress passes the House GOP proposal, he said at a briefing.

The Treasury reached its statutory borrowing limit on Dec. 31 and is using "extraordinary" measures to avoid breaching the ceiling that will work only until mid-February to early March, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has said.

While the White House said it wouldn't block the House bill, according to the statement, it still believes the measure "introduces unnecessary complications, needlessly perpetuating uncertainty in the nation's fiscal system."

Under the plan, the government's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit would be suspended until May 19. At that point, the measure would let the nation's borrowing authority automatically increase to cover the amount the U.S. Treasury borrowed during those three months.

The House suspension plan is accompanied by a prod to lawmakers on the budget. It says the House and Senate each must adopt a budget resolution for the next fiscal year by April 15 or its members' pay will be withheld.

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