House GOP Delays Debt Battle until May
Byline: Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Retreating with a purpose, Republicans sped legislation through the House on Wednesday to avert the imminent threat of a government default but pointing the way to a springtime budget struggle with President Barack Obama over Medicare, farm subsidies and other benefit programs.
The current legislation, which cleared the House on a bipartisan vote of 285-144, would permit Treasury borrowing to exceed the limit of $16.4 trillion through May 18. As it passed, Speaker John Boehner pledged Republicans would quickly draft a budget that would wipe out deficits in a decade, and he challenged Democrats to do the same.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to approve the debt bill as early as Friday or perhaps next week. The White House welcomed the legislation rather than face the threat of a first default at the dawn of the president's second term in the White House, and spokesman Jay Carney pointedly noted a "fundamental change" in strategy by the GOP.
House Republicans cast the bill as a way to force the Senate to draft a budget for the first time in four years, noting that if either house fails to do so, its members' pay would be withheld. They called the bill "no budget, no pay,"' a slogan if not a statement of fact, since lawmakers would be entitled to collect their entire salaries at the end of the Congress with or without a budget in place.
With polls showing their public support eroding, the Republicans jettisoned, for now at least, an earlier insistence that they would allow no additional borrowing unless Obama and the Democrats agreed to dollar-for-dollar federal spending cuts in exchange.
The average American family "can't buy everything they want every day; they have to make tough choices. It's time to make Congress make the same choices," said Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, underscoring the new Republican rallying cry.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker who will be responsible for drafting the budget for Republicans, said Congress has "a moral obligation" to prevent a debt crisis he said will hit hardest at seniors and others who depend on government the most.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan will take the lead role in crafting a blueprint expected to rely heavily on savings from benefit programs. The budget he wrote last year before being picked as the party's vice presidential candidate was to take two decades to achieve balance.
Ryan's 10-year-budget task will be eased by higher tax revenues resulting from the Jan. 1 expiration of a two-year payroll tax cut, and in part from an anticipated $600 billion generated by raising rates on upper incomes. But given the sheer size of annual deficits in the $1 trillion range, it will be impossible to meet his goal without taking large savings from programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, farm and student loan subsidies, federal retirement program and more.
Beyond the rhetoric lay a political calculation on the part of Boehner and other House Republicans that they could not afford to set up an immediate confrontation with Obama. At a closed-door retreat last week, the rank and file was presented with polling that showed their support eroding since the election into the mid-to-high 20s, and indicating that increasingly the public believes they oppose Obama out of political motives rather than on policy grounds. …