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House votes to extend debt ceiling
Jan 23, 2013 8:00 pm
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to suspend the nation's debt limit until May, allowing the federal government to continue to pay its bills and removing an immediate threat to the economy as it struggles to gain strength.
Meanwhile, with the passage of the so-called "No Budget, No Pay Act" by a 285-144 vote, House Republicans hoped to temporarily sidestep a potentially politically damaging fight with the White House over government default. They also hoped to pressure Senate Democrats to pass a budget, something that the upper chamber hasn't done in four years.
Tennessee’s delegation representing Wilson County in Washington supported the “No Budget, No Pay Act” on Wednesday, many speaking from the House floor on its merits.
“The idea behind No Budget, No Pay came from a Nashvillian who approached me two years ago,” said Congressman Jim Cooper, D-Nashville. “He said, ‘I don’t get paid if I don’t do my job, and do it on time. Why should Congress be any different?’ I agree, and this bill makes Congress follow the same rule that every American understands: do your work if you want to get paid.
“The president is right that the debt ceiling increase should be longer than three months and unconditional. But this bill is a step in the right direction to get Congress to take its duties seriously.”
Cooper said the bill passed by the House Wednesday would withhold Congressional pay for members of the House and/or Senate should that chamber fail to adopt a budget resolution by April 15. Congress has not adopted a budget in more than 1,300 days.
Before House consideration of the debt ceiling bill, Cooper re-introduced a standalone No Budget, No Pay Act on Friday with three others in Congress. That bill has 56 co-sponsors and was endorsed by the nonpartisan citizen group No Labels and by the Blue Dog Coalition.
Cooper testified about No Budget, No Pay before the Senate in March 2012. He also submitted a floor statement Wednesday into the Congressional Record about No Budget, No Pay.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Nashville, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he’s an original cosponsor of legislation to cut off pay to Congress if it doesn’t pass a budget.
“The Senate majority hasn’t passed a budget in three years – you wouldn’t get paid at the Grand Ole Opry if you showed up late and refused to sing, and Congress shouldn’t be paid for refusing to do its job.”
Congresswoman Diane Black, R-Gallatin, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, echoed the Tennessee delegation’s sentiments.
“While the Republican-led House has passed a responsible budget each of the last two years, the Democrat-controlled Senate has refused to pass any budget at all for nearly four years,” Black said. “Since then, the national debt has increased by more than $5 trillion. As every hardworking American family knows, fiscal responsibility starts with establishing a budget. Honest, responsible budgeting is absolutely necessary to restore fiscal sanity in Washington and prevent a full-blown debt crisis.”
The suspension of the debt limit, expected to be ratified by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, signaled that the government will not repeat the 2011 debt limit battle this month, a skirmish that frightened Wall Street and led to a downgrading of the nation's credit rating and could have done so again.
Several economists said Wednesday's short-term extension will help the U.S. economy, by removing the immediate threat of default and setting the stage for a calmer debate over two other clashes over federal spending – a looming automatic cut in spending called a sequester and the expiration of a continuing resolution that's financing many government operations.
"It helps because it eliminates the risk that we'd hit the debt ceiling soon," said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for forecaster IHS Global Insight. "It means we can consider in a less frantic atmosphere the sequester and the [continuing resolution]."
But economists stressed that a short-term debt limit extension is only a bandage covering a festering long-term fiscal problem that Congress and the White House need to get a handle on to better instill confidence in the U.S economy.
Congress still faces deadlines on the automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 and must deal with the expiration of the continuing resolution appropriations measure to keep the government operating in March.
– McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report