Debt crisis averted, but spring fight still ahead

WASHINGTON – Retreating with a purpose, Republicans sped legislation through the House on Wednesday to avert the imminent threat of a government default but pointing the way to a springtime budget struggle with President Barack Obama over Medicare, farm subsidies and other benefit programs.

The current legislation, which cleared the House on a bipartisan vote of 285-144, would permit Treasury borrowing to exceed the limit of $16.4 trillion through May 18. As it passed, Speaker John Boehner pledged that Republicans would quickly draft a budget that would wipe out deficits in a decade, and he challenged Democrats to do the same.

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, voted in favor of the bill but also called for Congress to enact long-term solutions to the debt and spending problems.

“I supported today’s legislation because a default on the national debt would threaten America’s credit rating and the economic recovery,” he said in a press release. “At the same time, Congress can’t keep kicking the can down the road. With sequestration on the horizon and an unacceptable level of federal debt, Congress needs to chart a path towards responsible federal spending cuts right away that will inject long-term certainty into the economy for the benefit of businesses and middle class workers.”

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to approve the debt bill as early as Friday or perhaps next week. The White House welcomed the legislation rather than face the threat of a first-ever default at the dawn of the president’s second term in the White House, and spokesman Jay Carney pointedly noted a “fundamental change” in strategy by the GOP.

House Republicans cast the bill as a way to force the Senate to draft a budget for the first time in four years, noting that if either house fails to do so, its members’ pay would be withheld. They called the bill “no budget, no pay,'” a slogan if not a statement of fact, since lawmakers would be entitled to collect their entire salaries at the end of the Congress with or without a budget in place.