- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

The Senate passed a bill yesterday that would raise the nation's debt limit by $450 billion, which would allow the government to continue borrowing past the current $5.95 trillion ceiling.
But the increase, approved as a stand-alone measure 68-29, is less that the $750 billion increase the administration had sought. It also sets up a conflict with the House, which already promised to negotiate the issue later in the emergency military-spending bill it passed.
House Republican leaders say they don't have the votes to pass a stand-alone debt-increase bill and the issue will have to be resolved as part of a conference on the spending bill.
The federal government is already borrowing from retirement accounts in order to maintain spending, but that money will run out by the end of this month, according to the Treasury Department. The $450 million increase would run through the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said moving the stand-alone bill was the best option to head off a potential problem.
"We ought not play political games with this. This has to be done, and that's why you had the overwhelming bipartisan vote here in the Senate. We did the right thing. Now the time has come for the House to do the right thing, too," he said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer praised the Senate action and urged the House to follow suit.
But House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said there aren't enough votes in the House to pass a stand-alone bill.
Some conservative Republicans would vote against it because it would allow increased government spending, and most Democrats would vote against it because they see it as their chance to attack Republicans for the current deficit, he said.
"The problem with the debt limit is, it is 95 percent politics in the first place," Mr. Armey said.
He said he wants to hear from the Bush administration before agreeing to the Senate's $450 billion figure and also said the supplemental-spending bill is the right place to debate the issue, because that spending is part of the reason the government seeks the extra borrowing capacity.
"Our best chance of getting it done is in the conference on the supplemental," he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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