- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

The Senate voted yesterday to boost the government's debt ceiling by $450 billion, but election-year politicking continued to bog down the must-pass legislation in the House.
Senators approved the measure by 68-29, heeding Bush administration warnings that failure to raise the $5.95 trillion borrowing cap by June 28 would cause the first federal default. It would be the first debt-limit increase since 1997, when annual deficits gave way to surpluses.
"The president praises the Senate action" and wants the House to approve the legislation, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said after the vote. "The debt limit is a very important issue. This is not the time to engage in any actions that could in any way" hurt the American economy.
Both parties supported the increase by more than 2-to-1 margins. The vote, however, did little but shift the spotlight back to the Republican-controlled House, where leaders continued to say they lack the votes to raise the limit.
Conservative Republican lawmakers are loath to support extra borrowing. Democrats say they have no interest in addressing a problem the growing national debt that they blame on the tax cuts President Bush won last year.
Because of that, the chief House Republican strategy remains including a debt-limit increase in the final version of the counterterrorism package both chambers approved in recent weeks. House and Senate leaders hope a final anti-terrorism bill will clear Congress just before its July 4 recess.
"Our best chance of getting it done" is in the counterterrorism bill, said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
Boosting the current debt ceiling to $6.4 trillion is expected to provide enough room for the government to borrow money until at least December after the November elections for control of Congress.
A federal default is considered unthinkable because it would irrevocably harm the government's credit rating, adversely affecting interest rates and the world economy. Because of that, Congress' legal obligation to periodically increase the borrowing limit invariably becomes a political battlefield.
House Democrats say they would support an increase that would require the issue to be revisited before the elections a scenario House Republicans say they want to avoid.
But in the Senate, Democrats favored addressing the issue because they feel they must as the chamber's majority. Republicans considered offering amendments that would clamp controls over federal spending, but opted not to after realizing they lacked the votes to prevail and might be seen as delaying the debt-ceiling increase.
Administration officials initially sought a $750 billion debt-limit boost in December. When the government approached its borrowing cap earlier this spring, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill dipped into federal accounts his agency controls to keep the government from breaching the borrowing ceiling, a legal maneuver.

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