House Republicans have used debt ceilings and 'fiscal cliffs' as political levers partly because Democrats in the Senate haven't passed a budget plan in three years. Now, that will change.
The House of Representatives moved America away from another teeth-gritted trip to the edge of a financial abyss Wednesday by approving a measure that would put off a fight on the federal debt ceiling from mid-February to mid-May.
It is a bit more than the typical Washington kick-the-can-down-the-road move. In some ways, it could give Washington a road map to figuring out its fiscal situation with a little more regular order and a lot less brinkmanship.
That's because, simultaneously, Senate Democrats have agreed to pass a budget plan – something they hadn't done the previous three years. As a result, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree, much of the wrangling over America's fiscal future could be channeled away from manufactured debt-ceiling crises and "fiscal cliffs" and into an actual budget debate.
“If both chambers have a budget – a Democratic budget from the Senate, a Republican budget from the House – now you’ve got competing visions for how we address this problem” of debt and deficits, House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio told reporters after the vote. “Out of those competing visions we’re going to find some common ground, I’m hopeful, that puts us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years.”
The final House vote was 285 to 144 in favor of the measure, with 86 Democrats (just under half the caucus) joining all but 33 Republicans. Some Republicans reversed their votes to oppose the bill after passage was assured.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada gave the bill his blessing, which suggests it should clear the Senate. On Tuesday, the White House said it would not stand in the bill’s way.
In addition to suspending the nation’s debt ceiling for three months, the measure also included a “no budget, no pay” provision that would put lawmakers' pay into escrow every day after April 15 that their respective chamber goes without passing a budget resolution. Lawmakers would receive their pay whenever they pass a budget or at the end of the congressional session in 2015, whichever comes first.