WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House will vote next week to permit the government to borrow more money to meet its obligations, a move aimed at heading off a market-rattling confrontation with President Barack Obama over the so-called debt limit.
Full details aren't settled yet, but the measure would give the government about three more months of borrowing authority beyond a deadline expected to hit as early as mid-February, No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia said Friday.
The legislation wouldn't require immediate spending cuts as earlier promised by GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Instead, it's aimed at forcing the Democratic-controlled Senate to join the House in debating the federal budget. It would try to do so by conditioning pay for members of Congress on passing budget measures through the House and Senate.
"We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government's spending problem," Boehner told GOP lawmakers at a retreat in Williamsburg, Va. "The principle is simple: 'no budget, no pay.'"
But the idea ran into opposition from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democrats who called it a gimmick because it would set up another potential confrontation in just a few months. Votes from Democrats may be needed to help pass the measure if GOP conservatives opposed to any increase in the debt limit withhold their support.
"This proposal does not relieve the uncertainty faced by small businesses, the markets and the middle class," said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. "This is a gimmick unworthy of the challenges we face and the national debate we should be having. The message from the American people is clear: no games, no default."
The Senate hasn't passed a budget since 2009, which has drawn lots of criticism from Republicans but protected Democrats controlling the chamber from politically difficult votes. The GOP measure would cut off or delay paychecks for lawmakers in either House or Senate if their chamber had not passed a budget resolution by April 15, but it would not require the two sides to reconcile their differences to keep receiving pay.
Obama and fellow Democrats welcomed the developments on the debt limit.
"We are encouraged that there are signs that congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle-class families depend on," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement. "Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt-limit increase without further delay."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also welcomed the development, but his office appeared to suggest Senate Democrats would not accept it because of the measure on congressional pay.
"It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage," said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson. "If the House can pass a clean debt-ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it."
In Washington-speak, a "clean" debt limit increase means a stand-alone measure without additional measures — like the "no budget, no pay" idea — attached. Jentleson said Reid and his fellow Senate Democrats have yet to decide how they'll respond to the measure.
The no budget, no pay idea is backed No Labels, a group started about two years ago by both Democrats and Republicans in hopes of easing the partisanship and gridlock that has engulfed Washington. Sponsors in Congress include Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a similar idea in 2011 when unanimously adopting a measure to deny pay to members of Congress and the president if the government shuts down for lack of an agency funding bill.
And in 2009, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed a short-term measure increasing the debt limit.
GOP leaders have been grappling with how to gain leverage in their battles with Obama over the budget. Boehner successfully won about $2 trillion in spending cuts as a condition of increasing the government's borrowing cap in 2011.
Obama, however, was dealt a stronger hand by his re-election in November and successfully pressed through a 10-year, $600 billion increase on upper-bracket tax payers earlier this month.
Other choke points remain, 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.
Failing to meet those deadlines would have far less serious consequences than defaulting on U.S. obligations like payments to bondholders, Social Security recipients and myriad other commitments when the government confronts a cash crisis and can no longer borrow to make payments. That could cause a meltdown in financial markets and would inflame voters already disgusted with Congress.
Under Congress' arcane budget procedures, a congressional budget resolution is a nonbinding measure that tries to set parameters for future legislation setting agency budgets and curbing federal benefit programs like Medicare.
Boehner has previously invoked a promise that any increase in the government's borrowing cap would be matched, dollar for dollar, by spending cuts or "reforms" that could include curbs on the long-term growth in retirement programs such as Medicare. Friday's announcement did not repeat that specific promise.
"Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending," Boehner said. "The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year."
The measure picked up support from key GOP conservatives, including the current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee, a powerful group inside the House GOP.
"In order to allow time for the Senate to act, next week's bill will extend the debt limit for three months," the Study Committee said Friday in a statement. "This is a necessary first step as we work to halt the decline of America and puts the focus where it belongs: on the Senate who has failed to do their jobs to pass a budget for more than three years." The statement was issued by RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., and former chairmen, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Tom Price, R-Ga., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Obama's budget is due early next month but is expected to be released several weeks later.
Boehner, who has represents Ohio's 8th District (Butler, Clark, Darke, Miami and Preble counties, as well as the southernmost part of Mercer County), released the following column Friday discussing legislation that will require both the House and Senate to pass a budget, and withhold member pay if they fail:
When I and my Republican colleagues were entrusted with the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, we committed ourselves to addressing our nation's debt problem and re-establishing trust between the American people and their elected leaders.
Always mindful of those goals, we've passed a budget for the country every year that would lower the deficit and cut spending to begin solving the debt problem that is hurting our economy and threatening our children's future.
This year we will again pass a budget for the nation that meets these goals. And this time, it is essential that the Democratic-controlled Senate pass a budget this year as well – something it hasn't done in nearly four years.
As Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), currently the House Minority Whip, correctly declared in 2006, passing a budget for the country is the most basic responsibility of governing.
The 1974 Congressional Budget Act requires passage of a budget resolution by April 15 each year. Under Democrats' control, the Senate has refused to pass a budget for 1,360 days. At a time when uncontrolled spending is dragging down our economy, such a record of inaction is unconscionable.
As we look to 2013, the American people continue to demand that Washington get serious about fiscal responsibility. Both parties and both chambers of Congress must heed this call by passing a budget. If they don't, they shouldn't be paid.
It's a simple principle: no budget, no pay.
President (Barack) Obama is again demanding an increase in the nation's debt ceiling, and refusing to discuss the possibility of enacting spending cuts along with it to lower our debt.
The president is right that we cannot allow our nation to default on its debts. But he's totally wrong when he says the debt limit should be increased without reducing government spending at the same time.
A long-term increase in the debt limit that is not preceded by meaningful and responsible reductions in government spending might avert a national default, but it would also invite a downgrade of our nation's credit that damages our economy, hurts families and small businesses, and destroys jobs.
With that in mind, House Republicans have united around the principle that before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending. The House will adhere to this principle. The Senate must as well.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year.
We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government's spending problem.
Every American family and small business has a budget. The House and Senate must as well.
In the coming days, the House will consider legislation to temporarily raise the debt ceiling for three months, and set up a broader debate about spending that obligates the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government's spending problem. The bill will require both the House and Senate to pass a budget, and member pay will be withheld if they fail.
I know from the letters and emails I receive that this stance enjoys strong support among the people of our congressional district.
Daryl from Lewisburg, Ohio, for example, wrote to me on January 17, saying he wants to see a ‘no budget, no pay' plan enacted to not only encourage our leaders to set our nation on a more stable course, but also to restore the American people's trust in their national legislature.
I've heard your concerns, and we are taking a first step towards serious action to address the threat posed by our debt and deficit. We've even adopted a Twitter hashtag for this effort: #NoBudgetNoPay.
There will be more. This is the debate our country needs.
Republicans will hold the president and his Senate accountable for their failures on the budget and press for real action to lower spending. We must take these steps together so we can begin to solve the debt problem that endangers our children's future.