GOP leaders say they will insist that automatic spending cuts (the “sequester”) scheduled to begin on March 1 will be made and that the House will adopt a budget resolution that would lead to a balanced budget within ten years without raising any more taxes. Just a few months ago, they were singing a different, less fiscally tough tune.
On Wednesday, the House suspended the limit on the nation’s debt ceiling. That gives Republican lawmakers nearly four months to sort out what they will demand in exchange for raising it and puts that potentially market-spooking debate off until after budget battles over the scheduled sequester cuts and the expiration on March 27 of a continuing resolution to fund the government. Republicans view the political terrain on those issues as more favorable than that of any confrontation with President Obama and Harry Reid’s Senate over further spending cuts.
For once, it was Democrats who were split down the middle on how to handle a sensitive issue: The House voted 285 to 144 to pass the debt-limit suspension, with nearly half of Democrats supporting the measure and seven out of eight Republicans voting for it. President Obama has said he will sign the measure, despite his opposition to parts of it.
One big reservation Democrats have about the bill is that it ties congressional pay to passage of a budget plan. Members would see their salaries suspended if either chamber failed to pass a budget resolution by April 15 (the Senate hasn’t passed such a resolution since 2009). Any paychecks that were delayed would be held in escrow until the end of this Congress in late 2014.