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Tags: boehner | debt | military | pensions | deal

With Just 28 GOP Votes, House Agrees to Raise Debt Limit

With Just 28 GOP Votes, House Agrees to Raise Debt Limit

By    |   Tuesday, 11 February 2014 06:23 AM EST

The House of Representatives, by a narrow margin, on Tuesday passed clean legislation raising the government's borrowing authority for one year in order to avoid a default that was looming at the end of this month.

By a vote of 221-201, the House passed the bill, adhering to President Barack Obama's demand that it have no unrelated conditions attached. With House passage, the bill now goes to the Senate, where debate could begin on Wednesday.

Only 28 of the House's 232 Republicans voted for the measure, leaving Democrats to provide most of the votes for passage.

Republican Speaker John Boehner allowed the vote, ignoring factions of his party that called for tying the measure to defunding of Obamacare and including benefits for military retirees.

Boehner acknowledged before the vote that Democrats would need to back the measure, which would get minimal Republican support.

"We’ll let the Democrats put the votes up," Boehner said, adding that he had spoken to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who told him there will be enough Democratic support to pass the measure.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

On Monday night, Republicans had said they would move a debt-limit increase that would include benefits for military retirees. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have said for months that a debt-ceiling increase must not be combined with any other policy measures.

"The bottom line is we need to get our work done," Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, told reporters Tuesday after a private party meeting.

A suspension of the debt limit enacted by Congress in October expired Feb. 7. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said last week that borrowing authority may not last past Feb. 27.

Boehner has struggled to find enough support from divided Republican lawmakers to increase the debt limit, joking last week that he’d have trouble getting enough votes from them even if the measure authorized sainthood for Mother Teresa.

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor had tried to cobble together a 218-vote majority and hoped that tying the debt limit to the military pension cuts could bring together enough votes from both sides of the aisle.

But the Republican leaders seemingly could not garner enough support.

Tea party-leaning Republicans would rather offset a rise in the debt ceiling with across-the-board reductions in entitlements. Democrats have been pushing for a no-strings-attached "clean" vote on the debt ceiling.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said, "Obviously, we should honor our commitment to our veterans, but let's do that in a separate bill and find savings elsewhere. I don't think we should tie it to the debt ceiling."

A plan that would have reduced cost-of-living pension increases for younger retired service members was part of a deal reached by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray. Restoring the cuts would cost about $7 billion, according to the Post.

Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist has supported a clean bill. "Let a clean bill through without touching the spending restraints established in these budget agreements," he told the Post.

The debt ceiling vote needed to happen before Treasury borrowing authority runs out on Feb. 27. The House is scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday for two weeks. By raising the cap, Congress would be authorizing the Treasury to borrow more money in order to pay existing debts, according to CNBC.

While tea party-leaning conservatives did not support Boehner in raising the debt ceiling, they were not inclined to actively fight to block his efforts.

"Right now we've got a debt ceiling bill that increases spending, which is diametrically 180 degrees opposite of what we were battling over just two years ago — where the question was how much in spending cuts we were going to get," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

Time was running out for lawmakers to act.

Lew told congressional leaders Monday that he had begun tapping two large government worker retirement funds to clear room under the debt limit. The action involved the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and would provide $50 billion to $75 billion in additional borrowing room, while tapping the Government Securities Investment Fund would  provide about $175 billion in borrowing room, he estimated.

Lew announced he would suspend payments to these two pension funds and would also draw down investments made in the funds. Previous Treasury secretaries have also employed this bookkeeping maneuver. Once Congress approves a new debt ceiling, the Treasury makes the funds whole by replacing the withdrawn funds and lost interest earnings.

Lawmakers temporarily suspended the borrowing limit last October in an agreement that ended a government shutdown and extended the federal borrowing limit. With a fresh extension of borrowing authority now needed again, the GOP debt limit plan is likely to employ the same approach and suspend the debt limit through early next year.

Raising the limit is needed so the government, which ran a $680 billion deficit last year, can borrow enough to pay all its bills, including Social Security benefits, interest payments on the accumulated debt and government salaries. Democrats and Republicans agree that failing to do so could spark a disaster in financial markets.

After last year's 16-day shutdown and accompanying debt battle, Republicans controlling the House are no longer interested in a big fight with Obama over raising the borrowing cap, preferring to keep the election-year focus on Obama's unpopular healthcare law.

Obama gave in to GOP demands in 2011 to pair a $2.1 trillion increase in the debt limit with an equal amount in spending cuts, mostly to the Pentagon and domestic agency operating budgets. He has since refused to negotiate over the debt limit.

Republicans last year gave Obama two debt increases with only modest add-ons, like a provision to force the Senate to pass a federal budget.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

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The House of Representatives, by a narrow margin, on Tuesday passed clean legislation raising the government's borrowing authority for one year in order to avoid a default that was looming at the end of this month.
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 06:23 AM
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