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House Pushes Off Debt Ceiling Deadline For Three Months


From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. Today the House of Representatives passed a bill to put off a fight over the debt ceiling at least until the middle of May. It's part of a new strategy for House Republicans. In the past, they've insisted that any rise in the debt limit come with spending cuts. Not so, this time. Instead, this bill comes with a threat to lawmakers, fail to pass a budget by April 15th and you won't get paid. NPR's Tamara Keith begins our coverage.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The House has just approved a no-strings-attached temporary rise in the debt limit, but what House Republicans want everyone to know is that the bill also prods both the House and the Senate to pass budget resolutions this year. So much so that they named it the no budget no pay act. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin chairs the House Budget Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: Local government has budget, business has budget, the federal government ought to have a budget. The Senate hasn't passed a budget in four years. That's wrong.

KEITH: For the record, Democrats in the Senate argued the 2011 agreement that ended the debt ceiling fight replaced the need for a budget for the past two years. But that argument doesn't fly with House Republicans like Jeff Duncan from South Carolina.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF DUNCAN: Every day on my appointment card that my staff gives me, we have at the top how many days it's been since the Senate's passed a budget.

KEITH: Duncan was speaking yesterday at a forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. For Duncan, who ran a small business before getting elected two years ago, the budget is a big deal.

DUNCAN: To come to Washington and see a dysfunctional Senate, to see a Harry Reid-led Senate that won't even do the most basic thing of governing and that is plan for the future and for it to be 1,364 days...

KEITH: In reality, federal budgets are non-binding resolutions and weren't even required by law until 1974. The president doesn't sign them. They're a blueprint. And if everything's working like it's supposed to, they set limits that the real spending bills, the appropriations bills, flush out. But the budget process very rarely works like it's supposed to.

REPRESENTATIVE HENRY WAXMAN: We've often gone for years without passing budgets and we still fund the government and still continue Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid payments.

KEITH: California Democrat Henry Waxman has been in Congress for virtually the whole time the modern budget process has existed.

WAXMAN: The budget is a way to set out the plan to discipline all the other spending and legislative activities and it's a good thing to do.

KEITH: But practically, budgets are more often than not simply political documents. Trey Gowdy, also a Republican from South Carolina, says his caucus has put out difficult budgets year after year.

REPRESENTATIVE TREY GOWDY: We have a budget which is alternatively called Draconian, mean-spirited, decimates this group or the other. They have a (unintelligible) we prefer a balanced (unintelligible). Let them come up with their plan and then we can have a debate. I'm tired of debating against the (unintelligible).

KEITH: And now, House Republicans appear to be getting what they've been asking for. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, is chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: The Senate will be moving a pro-growth, pro-middle class budget resolution through the committee and to the Senate floor.

KEITH: And though it was announced today, Murray insists this has long been the plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate will take up the House debt limit bill quickly without making any changes.

SENATOR HARRY REID: And I thank Speaker Boehner for his leadership in defusing a fight over the debt ceiling debate. See, as I've said before, not everything here has to be a big fight.

KEITH: The White House says the president would prefer a more lasting fix to the debt ceiling, but won't stand in the way if this bill makes it to his desk. It seems about half of House Democrats are the only ones putting up a fight. California Democrat George Miller took to the floor to complain that this bill puts another three months of uncertainty on an economy finally showing signs of life.

REPRESENTATIVE GEORGE MILLER: And all of a sudden, enter the Congress of the United States and says that we're going to put the full faith and credit of the United States of America on a 90-day lease.

KEITH: And then, possibly, we can watch Congress fight over the debt ceiling once again. But first, there's the automatic spending cuts of the sequester March 1st, followed by the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of March. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.