Hatch: Senate must start work now to avoid next debt ceiling cliff

"The bill before us would only eliminate the prospect of federal default until sometime in the summer," Hatch said on the Senate floor. "That means if we go through regular order, we have only a few months at best to debate, have hearings, process proposals and make decisions."

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Hatch stressed the need for a "regular order" process that runs through the committee, and said that is the only way to break the cycle of passing short-term answers that get little debate or consideration.

He said Senate Democrats know what regular order entails, but said the No Budget, No Pay act is the latest emergency patch that Congress is being forced to consider quickly. "As we debate yet another major piece of legislation that hasn't gone through committee, I don't think a reminder is out of order," he said.

Hatch noted that the Treasury Department has been using "extraordinary measures" since the start of 2013 to keep U.S. borrowing under the debt limit. These include altering the way money flows to various federal savings plans, which helps keep the U.S. technically under the current $16.394 trillion debt ceiling.

He said passage of No Budget, No Pay would suspend the debt ceiling through May 18. "Then, presumably, we'll be back to the use of 'extraordinary measures,' which as I understand it will give the government through the end of July before we're once again talking about possible default," he said.

"That's not the way to run a government."

Hatch spoke immediately after Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spoke about the need to pass the No Budget, No Pay act, which he said is needed to avoid a financial panic.

"Failure to pass this bill will set off an unpredictable financial panic that would plunge not only the United States, but much of the world, back into recession," Baucus said. "Every single American would feel the economic impact.

"There would be radical cuts in military salaries, veterans programs, Social Security benefits and education. Tax refunds may not be issued, and our country's credit rating would almost certainly be downgraded."

Baucus did not give any indication that his committee would start the work needed to negotiate a long-term debt ceiling deal. But Baucus did say Congress is making progress toward reducing the budget deficit, and noted that bills passed in the last few years would reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion over the next five years.

"That is real progress," Baucus said.

Republicans have dismissed those claims as an attempt to treat cuts to planned spending as cuts to current spending. Hatch dismissed Baucus's comments and said he doubts the government will see any real decline in the budget deficit under what Democrats are proposing.

"I don't see any deficit reduction," Hatch said.