House Passes Strings-Attached Debt Limit Hike

January 24, 2013

A bipartisan majority of House lawmakers approved a bill to conditionally raise the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt limit on Wednesday

WASHINGTON — Five of Colorado’s seven representatives joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in voting to raise the limit on the nation’s $16.4 billion debt on Wednesday – but attached some strings.

The “No Budget, No Pay” act would extend the federal treasury’s borrowing authority until May 19. If the House or Senate have not agreed on a budget outline by April 15, federal lawmakers’ salaries would be withheld.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) sought to emphasize the real-world consequences of the legislation. “How can you know what you need if you don’t have a budget? That’s insane. No one in the real world does that,” he said in an interview.

The vote was 285 to 144. Eighty-six Democrats joined 199 Republicans to vote for the bill. Supporters included Republican representatives Scott Tipton of Cortez, Cory Gardner of Yuma and Mike Coffman of Aurora.

While support for H.R. 325 was bipartisan, the opposition was too.

Thirty-three Republicans joined 111 Democrats to oppose the bill. Opponents included Democratic representatives Diana DeGette of Denver and Ed Perlmutter of Golden.  Boulder Democrat Jared Polis joined Republicans in voting for the bill.

Support or opposition to the bill broke more along ideological than partisan lines. The most liberal and conservative members of each caucus opposed the legislation.

Many liberal House Democrats support large public sector unions and oppose substantial reductions in government spending.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) whose Bethesda-based district includes thousands of government employees, said the bill would lead to “reckless” spending cuts and urged a “balanced” approach instead.

Rep. DeGette did not respond to two requests for comment, while Rep. Perlmutter does not speak to Capitol Hill print reporters generally.

Many of the conservative House Republicans represent white working-class constituencies who are concerned that increased government borrowing and runaway government spending will lead to higher taxes and unsustainable debt in the future.

Rep. Justin Amash (R- Mich.) told The Hill publication that the legislation failed to guarantee that the nation’s ledger books would be balanced after 10 years.

House Republicans, who control the lower chamber, indicated they do not intend to pass a budget blueprint unless the Democratic-controlled Senate acts first.

Noting that Senate Democrats have failed to pass a budget blueprint of their own since 2009, Rep. Tipton said it was their turn to approve one.

“While we have passed responsible budgets in the House since I’ve been in Congress, the Senate has refused to even discuss them or present an alternative,” Tipton said on the House floor Wednesday.

Senate Democratic leaders, who have had to answer questions about the upper chamber’s failure to pass a budget outline, appeared to be caught off guard by House Republicans’ accusation.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said the Senate did not need to pass a budget after it approved the Budget Control Act in August 2011. Yet Schumer’s remarks were undercut by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington’s pledge that the Senate would pass a budget blueprint this spring.

Even before the vote on the House floor Wednesday, some House Republicans indicated the legislation represented at least a temporary political victory for them.

House Republicans, who many believe were outmaneuvered by Democrats earlier this month on the so-called “fiscal cliff” compromise, came up with the plan of tying the raising of the debt limit to the withholding of lawmakers’ salaries at their annual retreat in Williamsburg, Va. last weekend.

The shift in tactics buoyed Rep. Coffman. “Now we have leverage,” he said in an interview Tuesday night.

Other House Republicans emphasized that their 10-year budget blueprint would cut annual discretionary spending to $974 billion from $1.04 trillion. “That’s what I was most happy about,” Rep. Gardner said

Yet budget blueprints do not carry the force of law and cannot reduce the public debt directly.

Even in years in which the Senate has outlined a budget, the debt has risen.

The national debt grew by $5 trillion between fiscal year 2000 and fiscal year 2008 – from $5.1 trillion to $10.1 trillion.  The debt has piled up almost twice as fast since 2008, however, growing to its current level of $16.4 trillion in the last four years.

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