Debt limit measure clears hurdle

The 217-212 procedural vote clears the way for a vote later this afternoon that will increase the nation’s debt ceiling to roughly $14.3 trillion. No Republicans voted for the procedural motion, and more than two dozen Democrats voted against it.

Once approved, the measure raising the debt limit, approved by the Senate last week, will go to president's desk as soon as the House clears a statutory pay-as-you-go measure that aims to rein in further spending. That bill is expected to be approved later Thursday.

The pay-go bill would require any new mandatory spending, such as new tax cuts or entitlement programs, be offset with revenue through tax hikes or spending cuts.

With the federal debt expected to hit its limit this month, the increase is needed to allow the government to continue borrowing and avoid default.

Democrats characterized a yes vote on the motion as a vote for responsibility. They said any member who voted for policies that weren't paid for, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Medicare prescription drug benefit and stimulus measures under both the Bush and Obama administrations, should feel an obligation to vote for the debt limit increase.

GOP members blasted Democrats for pushing costly policies that will add further to the country's red ink, such as the $787 billion stimulus, and dismissed the Democrats' pay-go law as ineffective.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) accused Democrats of doing one thing with the pay-go bill and another by allowing more debt.

Democrats are seeking to “run up the debt not only to a level that is unprecedented, but unstable,” he said.

The pay-go law won't apply to several expensive policies that Democrats plan to extend: the middle-class tax cuts passed during the Bush administration, a fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax to keep it from hitting middle-income Americans, Medicare doctor payments and the 2009 estate and gift tax rates. Lawmakers, however, will eventually have to find a way to pay for all but the Bush-era tax cuts, as the exemptions for the other policies end in five years or less.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that the House had approved the debt limit. This story was updated with correct information at 2:57 p.m.