WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - House Republicans are scheduled to vote Wednesday to extend thenation's $16.4 trillion debt limit as the opening salvo in a renewed battle thisyear to pass a federal budget and reduce the debt.
The GOP bill would suspend the limit on the nation's borrowing authority topay for the nation's legal obligations through May 18. The debt limit pays forobligations that Washington has already agreed to; it does not authorize newspending. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the nation will hit itsborrowing limit by early March.
The bill would both buy time for both parties to engage in broader budgetnegotiations while assuaging market fears of a potential U.S. default.
The White House was critical of the short-term approach but said Tuesday thatthe president would sign it if it reaches his desk. Senate Majority Leader HarryReid, D-Nev., was non-committal on whether he would take up the House bill. Reidmet late Tuesday with Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., todiscuss the Democrats' strategy.
President Obama and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will releasetheir respective budgets after the president's Feb. 12 State of the UnionAddress. Senate Democrats, who have not passed a budget since 2009, intend topass a budget this year, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told NBC on Sunday.
In an effort to pressure the Senate, House Republicans included in theirlegislation a provision to suspend lawmakers' salaries if their respectivechamber does not pass a budget by April 15. Their salaries would be held inescrow until a budget is adopted, or until the 113th Congress ends in two years.The "no budget, no pay" language is popular among outside reform advocates, suchas the non-partisan group No Labels. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas,backed the proposal, calling it an "appropriate sanction."
Congress also faces two upcoming budget deadlines when automatic spendingcuts kick in March 1, and current government funding runs out March 27. Thedeadlines, combined with the annual budget process that takes place in thespring, provide yet another opportunity for a Congress to come to a longer-termbudget agreement over the short-term solutions that have defined the previoustwo years of divided government.
The Senate's failure to pass a budget is a long-running point of contentionfor Republicans.
"We think it's incredible that the Senate for three years has ignored the lawand has refused to pass a budget. It's just something that bothers us so much... the fact that our government has gone without a budget for three years, onautopilot," Ryan told reporters recently. "We think we need to have a big debateabout a vision for the country, and at least how we would budget."
It is more likely the two chambers will pass respective budget blueprintsthan agree to a joint budget resolution, but even dueling budgets would be asmall sign of progress in Washington's ongoing fiscal wars.
The policy divide between the two parties remains wide. For example, Schumertold NBC that the Democrats' budget would include instructions for overhaulingthe federal tax code to include more revenues.
"The tax issue is over," countered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,R-Ky., on Tuesday, citing the New Year's budget agreement that made permanentthe Bush-era tax rates for 99% of Americans while raising taxes for those making$400,000 a year as individuals or couples making $450,000 a year. "I wouldventure to say there's not a single Republican vote in the House or Senate toprovide more revenue."
The GOP is likely to again include a proposal to revamp Medicare from aguaranteed benefit program to a "premium support" voucher-like program thatallows seniors to buy health care from the private sector -- an idea Democratscontinue to oppose.