House Republicans on Monday unveiled legislation that would suspend the U.S. debt ceiling for nearly four months, a strategy that may allow them to build political capital before the next round of fiscal negotiations without having to vote for a specific dollar amount that could be used against them.
The measure, scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, will suspend – not extend – the nation’s debt ceiling until May 19. At that date, the debt limit would automatically increase from $16.4 trillion to accommodate additional spending that may take place during that period.
The bill would also withhold pay from members of Congress if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by April 15. The Democratic-controlled Senate has not been able to pass a budget in four years.
The House Rules Committee posted the text of the bill online early Monday.
The Treasury Department expects the nation will hits its debt limit between mid-February and early March, at which point it will have exhausted its ability to borrow additional money. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have refused to raise that threshold unless Democrats agree to deep spending cuts the GOP believes are necessary for long-term fiscal stability.
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President Barack Obama, during a press conference last week, chastised Republicans for even suggesting they would allow the government to default on its obligations, repeatedly saying the U.S. is not a “deadbeat nation.” The GOP faced widespread criticism, even among its own members, after top leaders implied they would hold the debt ceiling hostage unless Democrats agreed to significant spending reductions.
Debt ceiling increases have been enacted 76 times since 1962. But while it’s a common legislative move, Republicans have accused Obama of attempting to raise the borrowing limit to fund expensive government programs the country cannot afford.
By supporting a debt suspension rather than increase, Republican lawmakers will be able to keep the nation afloat, fiscally, without publicly supporting a precise figure that could be used against them.