By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The U.S. House approved, 285-144, a bill to suspend the
nation's $16.4 debt ceiling through May 18 to avert a U.S. default on
its legal obligations and buy Washington more time to negotiate budget
"The bill we're passing today, (Republicans) think
will give us the ability to have a debate that will last a number of
months about contrasting visions and about how to fix this problem,"
said House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., "And we see this is as a
very defining moment for this session of Congress and our caucus in
getting a down payment on the debt crisis, on averting it."
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday the Senate would
pass the bill. The White House said Tuesday President Obama would sign
it when it reaches his desk.
The short-term extension provides
breathing room on a debate that threatened to rattle financial markets
if Congress pushed the debate up to the early March deadline set by the
Treasury Department. The debt ceiling does not authorize new spending,
but rather pays for bills already accrued by the U.S. government, on
everything from Social Security benefits to salaries for the U.S.
In exchange for the three-month extension, Republicans
will try to extract additional spending cuts from the president and
congressional Democrats before another extension is required.
the past two years, Washington has achieved about $2.5 trillion in
deficit reduction measures for the next decade, but Ryan said the GOP
views upcoming negotiations as a new starting point. "That was last
session. We're going forward now," he said. His remarks were at a round
table hosted Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.
MORE: Ryan ends low profile after election loss
wants a long-term extension of the nation's borrowing authority, but
Republicans view the debt limit as one in a series of potential leverage
points this spring the party can use to reign in spending and
entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, in exchange for
debt limit increases.
In addition, Congress must also deal with a
March 1 deadline when across the board spending cuts kick in after being
initially delayed in the year-end "fiscal cliff" deal, and a March 27
deadline when the current funding for the federal government runs out,
raising the threat of another shutdown fight.
"These are the points we think force the kind of conversation that we're just going to have to have," Ryan said.
House bill includes a provision that requires the House and Senate to
pass respective budgets by April 15, or the salaries for the lawmakers
in their chamber will be held in escrow until a budget is passed, or
until the Congress ends in two years. The language was intended to put
pressure on the Democratic Senate, which has not passed a budget
resolution since 2009.
Reid called the provision a "gimmick," but
said the Senate would agree to it. Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray,
D-Wash., who took the helm of the Senate Budget Committee this year,
announced the Senate would pass a budget resolution this year.
"Democrats and Republicans spent the last year laying out our budget
values and priorities on the campaign trail, and the American people
went to the polls and strongly endorsed the Democrats' balanced
approach," Murray said.
For Democrats, balance means seeking
additional sources of tax revenue to balance the budget, but
congressional Republicans say they will cede no more ground on raising
revenue after the taxes raised in the "fiscal cliff" deal - once again
setting the two parties on a fiscal collision course.
president) already got his revenues," Ryan said. Instead, Republicans
announced this week their upcoming budget will achieve balance in 10
years through spending cuts and reforms and without raising revenue.
Ryan's previous budget did not achieve balance until 2040, meaning
Republicans are eyeing much deeper spending cuts in this year's budget