House approves debt-limit extension, presses Senate to pass budget

The House on Wednesday approved a bill extending the nation's debt limit, raising pressure on the Senate to pass its first budget in nearly four years.

The House approved the No Budget, No Pay Act, which also includes a measure withholding senators' pay until they complete that work, in a 285-144 vote.

Among Republicans, 33 voted against it to protest the absence of specific spending cuts alongside suspending the nation's borrowing limit. But they were more than offset by the 86 Democrats who voted for the measure.

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The bill extends the debt ceiling through May 18, and requires each chamber to pass a budget by April 15 or have its members face a suspension of pay. Republicans are hoping the bill gives Congress a few months to find a longer-term debt-ceiling agreement that includes significant spending cuts.

At a press conference after the bill passed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) praised the vote as the "first step towards trying to resolve the nation's fiscal crisis in a responsible manner."

"I look forward to working with the White House and Senate to do so," he said.


But even as the House was passing the bill, Senate Democrats were downplaying the measure, and announced their own plans to pass a budget resolution this year.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) claimed victory in the debt-ceiling fight, saying House Republicans were in "full-on retreat on fiscal policy."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, said the Senate would pass the House bill quickly.

The Obama administration on Wednesday called the vote a "welcome development." But press secretary Jay Carney added that the president hoped for a long-term deal to avoid future battles over the nation's borrowing limit.

Passage in the House came after an hour-long floor debate in which GOP leaders cast the bill as something that would finally drag the Senate into a debate over fiscal policy that it has long ignored.

"Even when the Democrats had control in the two years before that, you all did a budget," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. "And yet, for nearly four years the United States Senate has not done a budget.

"I have no doubt that we're going to do our work," Boehner added, referring to the House. "We're committed to doing a budget and a 10-year plan to solve our budget crisis and to balance our budget.

"And frankly, I think it's time for the Senate, and the White House, to produce a budget that will balance over the next 10 years," he added.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) agreed with Boehner on the need for a mechanism that forces the Senate's hand.

"The reason for his extension is so that we can have the debate 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," Ryan added. "We owe them solutions."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said the Republican House can't effectively put the country on a budget by itself, and that Senate participation is needed.

"How can we begin to get our debt under control when Democrats won't even produce a budget?" Camp said. "This bill is the first step in forcing Democrats to put forward a budget so we can start holding Washington accountable for its out-of-control spending."

But not all Republicans were pleased, and lamented what they said is another delay in needed spending cuts. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said it is a "terrible precedent" to ignore the debt limit for nearly four months.

"This bill accommodates spending at ruinous levels far beyond the limits set by the House budget," he said.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) was one of 33 Republicans to vote "no," and told The Hill he had a problem with the bill's provision that would withhold lawmakers' pay if either the House or Senate did not pass a budget by April 15.

"To me, it was well-intentioned, but any time you equate pay with a vote, it’s basically using federal money to influence a vote," he said. "For me, either it violates the letter or the spirit of the Constitution."

While dozens of Democrats supported the bill as a way around the debt-ceiling impasse, Democratic leaders came out unified against the bill during debate, and said the attempt to block member pay is a "gimmick."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it an attempt to force Democrats to approve a Republican budget they oppose by threatening their pay.

"This linkage is a gimmick, it's a joke, it's not right," Pelosi said. "It's designed to put people on the spot and say, 'you don't get paid, and in order to get paid ... you must cut benefits for seniors, and their Medicare guarantee, Medicaid and the rest.' "

Pelosi reiterated Democratic arguments that the only way to reduce the deficit is through a "balanced" approach that protects social services programs.

She and other Democrats also criticized the bill for providing just a three month-delay in the debt-ceiling crisis. "Three months. Where is the certainty in three months?" she asked.

"This bill is a political gimmick," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. "This bill was cooked up a few miles from here, when, frankly, the majority party said, 'we're in trouble, the people don't like us, things aren't going well, how to do we fix it?' "

House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the bill takes the wrong approach of setting up yet another short-term deadline by which a huge fiscal agreement must be reached, which he said would only roil the markets further.

"By setting up what amounts to another 'fiscal cliff,' all our Republican colleagues are doing is prolonging economic uncertainty," he said.


—This story was last updated at 2:16 p.m.

Russell Berman contributed