By Russell Berman - 01/18/13 05:47 PM EST
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — House Republican leaders on Friday announced a plan to condition a three-month increase in the debt limit on the Senate committing to pass a budget by the April 15 statutory deadline.
“Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Republican conference in remarks to close the party’s three-day retreat in Williamsburg. “The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year.”
The House will also seek to prevent members of Congress from being paid if the two chambers do not pass a budget resolution.
“We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem,” Boehner said. “The principle is simple: no budget, no pay.”
“If the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay,” Cantor said.
The White House, which has demanded a "clean" debt-ceiling increase free of spending cuts, welcomed the proposal as a step in the right direction.
“We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on,” press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
“Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay. And as he has said, the President remains committed to further reducing the deficit in a balanced way.”
House GOP leaders spent much of their three-day retreat sounding out rank-and-file members on the idea of approving a temporary debt-ceiling hike to buy time for fiscal negotiations over automatic spending cuts in sequestration and an extension of government funding, which runs out in late March.
“The Senate has never even passed a budget. It is the rule and the law that by April 15 you have to, so what we’re saying is, we will extend the debt limit until the timeline when you have a budget, a roadmap,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the No. 3 House Republican, told reporters during a series of brief television interviews. “We think it’s only right that both [chambers] lay out their roadmap to put on a path to a balanced budget.”
The idea to use the annual budget process as a string to attach to a debt-limit hike speaks to a central frustration of the House Republican majority — that the Democratic-led Senate has not approved a budget resolution in nearly four years.
“If individuals cannot pass a budget, why should taxpayers pay their salary?” McCarthy said. “I mean, that’s the most fundamental thing you do, and how do you ever stop digging yourself in the hole if you don’t pass a budget?”
A Republican leadership aide said the legislation, which has yet to be written, would stipulate that member pay would be “withheld,” not changed, because of concerns over the 27th Amendment. The constitutional amendment ratified in 1992 states, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
Boehner had said since 2011 that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by spending cuts or reforms equal to or greater than the amount in new borrowing authority. The Republican aide said the new proposal would qualify as a “reform” because it would add an enforcement mechanism to the statutory requirement that each chamber of Congress approve an annual budget resolution.
No additional spending cuts would be included, the aide said.
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Though the details have not been finalized, the aide said that the legislation would authorize the Treasury to borrow money as needed up to a certain date, as opposed to setting a new monetary limit above the current cap of $16.4 trillion.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) denounced the bill as another threat from the GOP.
"Republicans should stop using these threats of default to hold our economy hostage, and as always, we are ready to work with them to determine the most productive path toward ending these constant crises and moving toward a balanced, bipartisan, and comprehensive budget deal,” Murray spokesman Eli Zupnick said.
Zupnick pointed to an interview in which Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that the U.S. will not default on its debt despite GOP rhetoric.
“As Senator Cornyn said today, Republican threats to play politics with the debt limit are nothing more than a negotiating ploy, so we expect them to allow us to raise the debt limit so the government can pay the bills it has already accrued," he said.
Republicans in the House are trying to formulate a plan that Senate leaders and the White House would have a hard time credibly rejecting. That could include finding spending cuts that Obama has proposed or endorsed, rather than ones favored by conservatives that he has repeatedly rejected.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats would be "happy" to consider a debt-ceiling bill that isn't paired with spending cuts.
"It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage. If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said.
“As President Obama has said, this issue is too important to middle class families' economic security to use as a ploy for collecting a ransom. We have an obligation to pay the bills we have already incurred — bills for which many House Republicans voted."
Approving a three-month debt-limit extension would essentially push the issue from the front to the back of a series of looming fiscal deadlines. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has told Boehner that the department will run out of ways to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt sometime between mid-February and the beginning of March. The $85 billion in sequestration cuts will begin taking effect March 1, and the government will run out of funding on March 27.
Acting on the debt ceiling would allow House Republicans to make a stronger fight on the other two fronts, members and aides say.
“A long-term increase in the debt limit that is not preceded by meaningful and responsible reductions in government spending might avert a default, but it would also invite a downgrade of our nation’s credit that damages our economy, hurts families and small businesses, and destroys jobs,” Boehner said.
—This story was first posted at 12:15 p.m. and has been updated.
Alexander Bolton and Erik Wasson contributed.