“I would choose to dig in now and know what we’re going to get when we raise that debt ceiling,” he said. “I think that we’ve got to step up and take responsibility for this generational theft. I don’t know what it’s going to take to wake Washington up.”
The bill passed at least a month before the government was going to bump into the $16.39 trillion debt limit. For a Congress that has lurched from deadline to deadline, it was a startling act of planning.
And there are teeth in this bill. House Republicans wrote in provisions that will begin blocking lawmakers from getting paid if they haven’t passed a budget by April 15. That was aimed squarely at Senate Democrats, who control the upper chamber but haven’t passed a federal budget in nearly four years.
Those provisions raise constitutional questions because the 27th Amendment bans a Congress from “varying” its own pay once it has been sworn in, and some scholars argue that withholding pay would violate that.
Republican leaders dismissed that, saying they wrote the law so that the money would go into escrow and everyone would get paid at the end of the Congress no matter what. With both chambers vowing to pass a budget, though, that could make any court challenge moot.
The bill doesn’t name a debt limit. Instead, it waives the limit from now until May 18, meaning all new borrowing during that time will be legal. A new debt limit will be established on May 19.
During the period from late January to May 18 in 2012, the government added $476 billion in new borrowing. But this year that total could be much higher since the Treasury Department has been using work-arounds to delay bumping up against the debt ceiling for most of January, and that money will have to be replenished.
The bill produced some fascinating splits. While Mr. Reid welcomed it, Democratic leaders in the House blasted it, saying it was too short.
“Three months? Where is the certainty in three months?” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “We should not even be having a debate. There should be no doubt the full faith and credit of the United States will be honored.”
Meanwhile, Republicans were left trying to find their footing and hoping it would come in the upcoming budget fight.
The Republicans hit their high-water mark in August 2011, when they attached $900 billion in discretionary spending caps and about $1 trillion in future spending sequesters to a debt increase.
But since then, Republicans have struggled to find unity, with some members backing higher spending and tax increases, others opposed to the automatic spending cuts to defense and still others wanted a government shutdown in order to force cuts.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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