WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives voted today to approve a three-month extension of the debt limit in a bill that concurrently pressures lawmakers to adopt a budget or have their pay withheld.
The vote passed by a count of 285-144. Thirty-three Republicans opposed the measure, while 86 Democrats voted to approve it, sending the legislation to the Senate where it is also expected to pass, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"I'm pleased that Speaker Boehner's House colleagues have decided to change course and pass a bill that defuses yet another fight over the debt ceiling," Reid, D-Nev., said. "In substance, it's a clean debt limit increase."
The bill, known as the No Budget No Pay Act of 2013, directs both chambers of Congress to adopt a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014 by April 15, 2013. If either body fails to pass a budget, members of that body would have their paychecks put into an escrow account starting on April 16 until that body adopts a budget. Any pay that is withheld would eventually be released at the end of the current Congress even if a budget doesn't ever pass.
Democrats also pledged today to pass a budget in the Senate this year. The Senate has not passed a budget resolution since April 29, 2009.
"This bill simply says 'Congress, do your job.' When I grew up in Wisconsin, if you had a job and you did the work, then you got paid. If you didn't do the work, you didn't get paid. It's that simple," Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said during debate on the bill leading into the vote. "We have a law. It's called the Budget Act. It requires that Congress passes a budget by April 15. All we're saying is, 'Congress, follow the law. Do your work. Budget.'
The measure also temporarily suspends the statutory debt limit through May 18, granting the Treasury Department the additional borrowing authority to meet obligations that require payment over the next three months. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department has warned that its borrowing authority would run out by mid-February.
"There should be no long-term increase in the debt limit until there's a long-term plan to deal with the fiscal crisis that faces our country," Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a floor speech prior to the vote. "Every hardworking taxpayer in America knows that they have to do a budget. Every hardworking taxpayer understands that you can't continue to spend money that you don't have."
House Democrats generally opposed the bill, calling it a "political gimmick" for "prolonging economic uncertainty."
"If it's a good idea to maintain the obligations of the U.S. government between now and May 19, it sure is a good idea to make sure that we meet the obligations of the United States Government beyond that," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget committee, said during debate. "This is a political effort simply to increase their negotiating strategy - leveraged three months from now - at the expense of jobs and the economy and the American people."
In recent years conservatives have opposed any increase to the debt limit without corresponding spending cuts, but Republicans hope to gain leverage with a three-month increase by syncing up the next slate of major fiscal deadlines facing Congress to provide lawmakers with more time to work out a so-called 'Big Deal' on deficit reduction.
"The reason for this extension is so that we can have the debate that we need to have," Ryan said. "It's been a one-sided debate. The House of Representatives has passed budgets. The other body, the Senate, hasn't passed a budget for almost four years. We owe our constituents more than that. We owe them solutions and when both parties put their solutions on the table, than we can have a good, clear debate about how to solve the problem."
"The problem is not going away no matter how much we can wish it away," Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, added. "This isn't a Republican or a Democratic thing. This is a math thing, and the math is vicious, and it's hurting our country, and it's hurting the next generation, and it's hurting our economy."
Casting the House vote as a victory since it abandoned prior demands for spending cuts in exchange for an increase, Reid said that the Senate will move quickly to pass the bill and send it to the president, perhaps as early as this week.
"This proposal gives us something we can work with here in the Senate," Reid, D-Nev., touted at a Capitol news conference today. "In the short term…it removes the threat of default. For the long term it sets a helpful precedent that's going to make raising the debt ceiling easier from now on."
Reid also called the "no budget, no pay" provision a gimmick to lure in the House's most conservative members who may not have gone with the plan otherwise.
"I understand and we all understand the tea party plays a big part in what goes in the House, and they need a gimmick or two to get things done over there, but to spare the middle class another knock-down, drag-out fight, we're going to proceed to work on this legislation and get it out of there as quickly as we can," he said.
This morning Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced that the Senate will return to regular order and move a budget resolution through the Budget committee and to the Senate floor, a move celebrated by Republicans as marking the first time the Senate will adopt a budget in nearly four years.