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 A. Boehner of Ohio said before the measure passed by 285 to 144. Eighty-six Democrats joined Republicans to make up for the 33 Republican defections.
Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, said the phrase went back to Jamestown in 1608, when Capt. John Smith established the “no work, no food” rule for the embattled colonists. 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.
“The good news is that our Republican colleagues finally recognized that America must pay its bill and meet its financial obligations without conditions,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. “The bad news is they only want to do it for three months.”
The decision by House Democrats to oppose a measure they called gimmickry forced many Republicans to vote to do something most said they would never do: lift the debt ceiling. Senate Democratic leaders shrugged off the dictate and claimed victory.
“The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the 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 Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin plans to move through his Budget Committee.
“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 Senator Patty Murray of Washington, 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 partly 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.
“We have a budget that’s described as draconian, that decimates this program or that. They have a phrase, ‘balanced approach,’” said Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina. “I’m tired of debating against a phrase.”
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 at that time to force deep spending cuts or changes to Medicare and Social Security that would bring down deficits in the long run.
“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,” Mr. 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, and the poor.”
Such continuing brinkmanship brought a rebuke from Ms. 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. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, called it “institutionalized bribery,” since it effectively says, do what Republicans want or do not get paid. That was why the nation passed the 27th Amendment, which says Congressional pay cannot be varied within a single Congress.
But the “no budget, no pay” mantra had bipartisan appeal. Senators, including Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, introduced their own version on Wednesday.
Source: The New York Times