House Republicans unveil measure to suspend debt ceiling until May 19

House Republicans on Monday unveiled legislation that will suspend the debt ceiling until mid-May, setting the stage for a floor vote as soon as Wednesday. 

The House Rules Committee posted the text of the legislation as Washington prepared for President Obama’s second inauguration. In addition to preventing default, the bill would withhold members’ pay if Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15. 

The Rules Committee will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the legislation Tuesday, setting up a vote as soon as Wednesday on the House floor. 

{mosads}House Republican leaders are using the bill to put pressure on Senate Democrats to pass a budget, which they have failed to do for over four years. 

“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 on Friday in remarks to close the party’s three-day retreat in Williamsburg, Va. “The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year.” 

Leading Senate Democrats have said they will produce a budget resolution that will include increased revenues, and they have pledged to consider the debt-limit boost set to come from the House. 

While past measures to address the debt limit have simply increased the borrowing cap, the House bill would actually suspend the debt limit until May 19. On that date, the debt limit would be automatically increased from $16.4 trillion to accommodate Treasury’s borrowing beyond that cap.

The arrangement provides some political cover for Republican lawmakers, because they will not be required to vote for a specific dollar amount that could be used against them in campaign ads. 

House Republican leaders have billed their measure as “no budget, no pay.” But the bill would not actually eliminate pay for members of Congress if there is no budget in place by April 15. Rather, if a chamber of Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15, all income earned by members of that chamber would be set aside. Members would receive that pay in full once a budget is passed, or on the final day of the 113th Congress, at the end of 2014. 

This arrangement was struck as a way to avoid running afoul of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that no law varying the compensation of members of Congress can take effect until a new Congress is in place — members cannot vote to give themselves raises or pay cuts. 

House Democrats were quick to criticize the measure when Republicans first announced it Friday. Through a spokesman, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the idea as a “gimmick,” and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it put “politics before policy.”

Both called for Congress to agree with the White House and pass a “clean” debt-limit increase without any other additional policy changes. But neither explicitly called on Democrats to oppose the measure, bringing into question whether House Republican leaders will need to rally significant support within their own caucus to get it passed.

The government reached its borrowing limit on Dec. 31, and the Treasury Department has been employing “extraordinary measures” since then to keep the government current on its obligations. Those measures are expected to keep the government from defaulting until sometime between mid-February and the beginning of March.

This story was updated at 11:38 a.m., 4:18 p.m. and 7:54 p.m.

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