Washington Digest — Congress suspends debt ceiling


WASHINGTON – Congress this week agreed to allow the government to borrow more money to pay its bills through March 2015.

The Senate and House voted in favor of suspending the debt ceiling as the Treasury warned the federal government could face default as it neared the $17.3 trillion limit.

Most Democrats supported the bill saying that raising the debt ceiling simply allows the government to fulfill a basic responsibility to pay its bills. Doing otherwise, they warned would be catastrophic to the economy.

Most Republicans opposed the bill saying it is irresponsible to allow the government to continue to pile up debt without implementing greater fiscal restraint.

Previous agreements to raise the debt ceiling had included conditions to reduce the deficit but this time Republicans did not push for such concessions fearing voters would blame them for engaging in political brinksmanship.

That was the case last October, when most voters blaming Republican insistence on defunding the Affordable Care Act for a budget impasse that caused a 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said passing the extension was the right thing to do.

“It is encouraging that some of my Republican colleagues seem to be regaining their grip on sanity this week,” he said. “A few reasonable House Republicans were willing to join Democrats to avert a catastrophic default on this nation’s obligations.”

The House voted 221-201 for the debt ceiling bill, with 193 Democrats and 28 Republicans voting to pass it.

Reps. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., voted against it.

In the Senate, conservatives led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attempted to block passage of the debt ceiling bill by forcing a procedural motion that required a 60-vote majority to continue action.

A dozen Republicans joined 55 Democrats to move ahead, overcoming the threatened filibuster, 67-31.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted with the Democrats. Cruz and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., voted against ending the filibuster. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., did not vote.

The Senate then voted 55-43 to suspend the debt ceiling to March 15, 2015. The party-line vote sent the bill to President Obama for his signature.

Cornyn, Cruz and Inhofe opposed the bill. Coburn did not vote.

Military pension benefit cut rescinded

Congress also revoked a $6 billion spending cut that would have fallen on military pension holders of working age.

In December, lawmakers agreed to reduce annual cost-of-living increases for military retirees by 1 percentage point starting in 2015 as part of larger budget agreement.

About 840,000 of the estimated 2 million military retirees eligible for pensions are under age 62 and would have been hurt by the reduction.

Most lawmakers agreed that the pension should be fully restored but disagreed on whether or not an alternative should be offered to offset the lost budget savings.

Senate Democrats initially wanted no offset but agreed, in the end, to a House proposal that makes up the estimated $6 billion in savings by tacking on an additional year of across-the-board spending cuts to Medicare in 2024.

The Senate voted, 95-3, in favor of the bill. Cornyn, Cruz and Inhofe voted in favor. Coburn did not vote.

The House approved the bill, 326-90. Hall, Cole and Mullin voted for it.

 

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