Many House Democrats described as gimmickry legislation to suspend the country’s borrowing limit for three months. They were right. The maneuvering also was necessary, the White House and congressional Republicans long at odds over budget priorities, the country approaching the risky business of flirting with a default by the end of next month or early in March.
The defiant ones in the House Republican caucus gave ground to business leaders and others in their party advising against the reckless step of blocking the country from paying its bills. Remember, an increase in the debt ceiling doesn’t authorize new spending. It permits additional borrowing to cover money Congress already has spent.
On Wednesday, a 285-144 bipartisan majority approved the plan to buy time. Democrats in charge of the Senate have expressed their support. The bill allows continued borrowing until May 18. So the debt ceiling would increase, as House Republicans evade a potentially damaging fight without having to approve explicitly a higher level. After May 19, the Treasury will take steps to avoid the debt ceiling, likely putting off another unnecessary confrontation until late July or early August.
John Boehner touted the legislation: “It’s real simple: no budget, no pay.” The House speaker had in mind one of the gimmicks, the legislation requiring the withholding of lawmaker salaries until a budget is passed or the current congressional session ends. House Republicans seized the moment to jab Senate Democrats for failing to pass a formal budget in recent years.
Instead, the country has operated on a series of continuing resolutions, past spending levels carried forward with various adjustments. The current resolution expires on March 27, some House Republicans already sharing their willingness to bring a government shutdown.
Worth adding is this “no budget, no pay” idea isn’t all that it seems. It merely requires each chamber to craft a budget plan. There is no requirement for making tough choices to bridge differences.
Yet for all the partisan posing, there is value in each chamber going through the exercise. House Republicans likely will advance something even more severe in its spending cuts than the proposal shaped by Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, Boehner having pledged to wipe out the deficit in 10 years. This should be seen as an opportunity for Senate Democrats. They would do well to propose an alternative, protecting the priorities they deem important while putting the country on a path to appropriate fiscal discipline.