By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - House Republicans are scheduled to vote Wednesday to
extend the nation's $16.4 trillion debt limit as the opening salvo in a
renewed battle this year to pass a federal budget and reduce the debt.
GOP bill would suspend the limit on the nation's borrowing authority to
pay for the nation's legal obligations through May 18. The debt limit
pays for obligations that Washington has already agreed to; it does not
authorize new spending. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the
nation will hit its borrowing limit by early March.
would both buy time for both parties to engage in broader budget
negotiations while assuaging market fears of a potential U.S. default.
White House was critical of the short-term approach but said Tuesday
that the president would sign it if it reaches his desk. Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was non-committal on whether he would take
up the House bill. Reid met late Tuesday with Budget Committee
Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., to discuss the Democrats' strategy.
Obama and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will release their
respective budgets after the president's Feb. 12 State of the Union
Address. Senate Democrats, who have not passed a budget since 2009,
intend to pass a budget this year, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told
NBC on Sunday.
In an effort to pressure the Senate, House
Republicans included in their legislation a provision to suspend
lawmakers' salaries if their respective chamber does not pass a budget
by April 15. Their salaries would be held in escrow until a budget is
adopted, or until the 113th Congress ends in two years. The "no budget,
no pay" language is popular among outside reform advocates, such as the
non-partisan group No Labels. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas,
backed the proposal, calling it an "appropriate sanction."
also faces two upcoming budget deadlines when automatic spending cuts
kick in March 1, and current government funding runs out March 27. The
deadlines, combined with the annual budget process that takes place in
the spring, provide yet another opportunity for a Congress to come to a
longer-term budget agreement over the short-term solutions that have
defined the previous two years of divided government.
The Senate's failure to pass a budget is a long-running point of contention for Republicans.
think it's incredible that the Senate for three years has ignored the
law and has refused to pass a budget. It's just something that bothers
us so much ... the fact that our government has gone without a budget
for three years, on autopilot," Ryan told reporters recently. "We think
we need to have a big debate about a vision for the country, and at
least how we would budget."
It is more likely the two chambers
will pass respective budget blueprints than agree to a joint budget
resolution, but even dueling budgets would be a small sign of progress
in Washington's ongoing fiscal wars.
The policy divide between
the two parties remains wide. For example, Schumer told NBC that the
Democrats' budget would include instructions for overhauling the federal
tax code to include more revenues.
"The tax issue is over,"
countered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday,
citing the New Year's budget agreement that made permanent the Bush-era
tax rates for 99% of Americans while raising taxes for those making
$400,000 a year as individuals or couples making $450,000 a year. "I
would venture to say there's not a single Republican vote in the House
or Senate to provide more revenue."
The GOP is likely to again
include a proposal to revamp Medicare from a guaranteed benefit program
to a "premium support" voucher-like program that allows seniors to buy
health care from the private sector -- an idea Democrats continue to