Senate likely to accept House bill that would temporarily raise the debt ceiling

Senate Democrats are likely to accept grudgingly a House bill to raise the debt ceiling until May 19.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hinted Tuesday that the Senate would take up and pass the bill.

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“I am very glad that they are going to send us a clean debt-ceiling bill. The other stuff on it, we’ll approach that when we need to,” he said. “But I’m glad that we are not approaching a crisis here in the next few days.”

The House bill suspends the debt ceiling and contains a provision that would withhold lawmakers' pay in the House and Senate until that chamber passes a 2014 budget resolution.

The White House said formally Tuesday that it does not oppose the House bill, leaving Senate Democrats with little room to object.

Reid defined “clean” as not containing actual spending cuts.

“I am happy they sent us a debt ceiling not tied to entitlement cuts and dollar-for-dollar. So that’s a big step in the right direction,” he said.

Pressed on the "no budget, no pay" aspect of the bill, Reid referred all questions to Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Her office did not respond to questions on Tuesday.

“The other stuff on it, Sen. Murray is going to be the spokesperson on that and we’ll see how she wants to proceed,” Reid said. He said he will be meet Tuesday night with Murray on budget process.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday suddenly announced that the chamber for the first time in four years will vote on a Senate Democratic budget resolution. He said the budget would be used to advance tax code reform.

Other Senate Democrats also suggested Tuesday they could back the House GOP proposal.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he supported the bill in principle.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Finance Committee chairman, told reporters that "three months is better than no months."

But Baucus also stopped short of saying he could back the House GOP proposal. "I didn't say that," the Montana Democrat said. "I just think three months itself, that concept, would give us a little breathing room."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), also a Finance Committee member, sounded a similar note.

"Three months can be a lifetime around here, and we need to make every day of it count," Carper told The Hill. "I think it's a constructive move by the House, and I hope we act in a constructive way in response."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) suggested that he found the House proposal more reasonable than other measures the chamber has passed in recent years.

"That wasn't the kind of the thing that you typically hear from the House, so I really perked up on that," said Rockefeller, a Finance Committee member who has announced he won't seek another term in 2014.

Rockefeller also said he had no issue with a short-term increase in the debt limit.

"That's what we do around here most of the time any way," Rockefeller said. "You've got to vote on something, right? It's better than quorum calls."

Even Senate Democrats who said they had real problems with the proposal declined to say whether they'd vote against it.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he'd prefer a permanent solution to the debt ceiling.

"The president's right that it ought to be considered separately. We ought to just extend it," Blumenthal told The Hill. "It fails to provide the certainty and predictability that our economy needs at this point," he said about the House GOP proposal.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called the GOP proposal a positive first step, saying it was heartening to see House Republicans back away from threats of default so the Congress can address fiscal matters in "a thoughtful kind of way."

"It's a plus in the sense that there's an acknowledgement that this is a serious issue, that in and of itself is a positive," he said.

When asked if he would favor efforts to lengthen the duration of the debt-limit suspension, he said, "Of course," but added that he was not wedded to any particular length.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) also called the GOP bill a positive first step but said he prefers the debt ceiling not to be tied to any other matter, including passage of the budget.

“I wish it was a longer term. I don’t know why it is connected to anything else,” he said. As to how he will vote he said, “I’d have to see how it comes over.”

Meanwhile, Republicans offered tempered enthusiasm for the House plan, with several saying they needed to learn more about the path forward under this approach.

"I have a lot of questions," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). "It's important to me what the details are that go with it. For instance, what's going to happen on [the continuing resolution], what's going to happen with sequestration.

"I know the House probably wants to get this vote behind them first, and then I think, obviously, I'd like for House leadership to share with us exactly what the next steps are," he added. "We know what step A is. I'd like to know what steps B, C, and D are."

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) declined to say whether he would support the House measure if it reached the Senate floor, but said he was sympathetic to House GOP efforts to find some common ground with the president on the issue.

"I certainly would have liked to have seen dollar-for-dollar deficit reduction on that, but I understand," he said. "We're facing a president that is totally unserious about reducing the debt and deficit ... so I understand the difficulty the House is facing."

Republican leaders put the onus for handling the House proposal squarely on the shoulders of Senate Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that House Republicans have put a plan on the table, and it was time for the Democrats running the Senate to respond in kind.

"We look forward to seeing what Senate Democrats recommend. It's time for them to function," he said.