- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

A top House Democratic leader said Friday that Congress will have to permit at least $1.8 trillion in additional federal borrowing next year in order to avoid a default on the U.S. debt.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said an increase in the so-called debt limit would have to be in the neighborhood of $1.8 to $1.9 trillion in order to allow the government to borrow enough money to keep the government running through December of next year.

Democrats are struggling to pass an increase in the $12.1 trillion cap on borrowing before the end of the year and are trying to pass an increase large enough so that they won’t have to vote again on the issue before next year’s midterm elections. The bill would permit a total federal debt of about $14 trillion.

To win the votes of moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats for the politically unpopular debt limit, Mr. Hoyer pledged to attach to the debt-limit increase a strict “pay-as-you-go” budget law aimed at ensuring that new tax cuts or new spending programs don’t increase the deficit.

Under a pay-as-you-go regime, if offsetting cuts or revenue hikes are not found to pay for new policies, across-the-board spending cuts would hit selected programs such as farm subsidies and Medicare.

The debt-limit measure is expected to be attached next week to a $626 billion measure funding the Pentagon budget.

The must-pass debt-limit increase - Congress has never allowed the government to default on its debt obligations - has prompted a spate of brinksmanship by Democratic budget hawks.

On the one hand, about a dozen Senate Democrats say they will not vote for the debt measure unless a commission of lawmakers and administration officials is established to come up with a bill to curb the deficit and to force Congress to vote. That measure is opposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and top Democrats such as Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat.

In the House, more than 50 Blue Dogs are withholding their votes for the debt-limit measure unless they win enactment of their pay-as-you-go law.

Mr. Hoyer said negotiations are under way to try to attach both measures to the debt-limit measure.

Mr. Hoyer also said that the House would seek to extend unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the long-term jobless for six months. A one-year extension of the benefits had been under discussion.

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