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White House: Obama backs bill divorcing debt ceiling, sequestration fights

Jan. 22, 2013 - 05:00PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments

President Obama will not stand in the way of a House Republican plan to delay action on the U.S. debt ceiling by three months, the White House announced Jan. 22.

The House on Jan. 23 is slated to vote on a measure that essentially would allow Washington to borrow an unlimited amount of funds through early May. The legislation, oddly, does so in order to allow conservative House members to avoid voting in favor of a debt-ceiling hike.

“Although [the GOP bill] is a short-term measure and introduces unnecessary complications, needlessly perpetuating uncertainty in the nation’s fiscal system, the [Obama] administration is encouraged that [the bill] lifts the immediate threat of default and indicates that congressional Republicans have backed off an insistence on holding the nation’s economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education, and other programs that middle-class families depend on,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy document.

“For these reasons, the administration would not oppose a short-term solution to the debt limit and looks forward to continuing to work with both the House and the Senate to increase certainty and stability for the economy,” the White House said, adding it wants lawmakers in coming months to pass a long-term debt-ceiling hike.

At issue is a plan U.S. House GOP leaders unveiled on Jan. 18. For the defense sector, the bill provides hope that Congress and the White House will pass the kind of $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package needed to permanently turn off a pending $500 billion, 10-year cut to planned Pentagon spending.

Because it would take the debt ceiling off Washington’s agenda until May, it would divorce a coming debate about how to void those pending Pentagon cuts from what is expected to be a bitter political fight over the debt ceiling.

If the Senate passes the measure and Obama signs it, the legislation would steer the nation around the so-called “triple cliff,” which is composed of the hotly political debt ceiling, twin $500 billion cuts to planned defense and domestic spending, and a continuing resolution (CR) to fund all government operations. The debt ceiling may already have been reached. The spending cuts are set to kick in March 1. The current 2013 CR expires March 27.

Lawmakers and sources worry if a plan like the House GOP’s debt ceiling plan is not enacted, the three-pronged cliff would so poison Washington’s political climate that it would be difficult to find accord on all three problems.

During a Jan. 22 House Rules Committee hearing on the GOP plan, several Democrats asked “what are we even doing here?” Some Democrats labeled the plan a “gimmick,” while Republicans such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, hailed it because they believe it will allow both chambers to pass a federal budget that includes big spending cuts to boost deficit-reduction efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., initially signaled he was open to bringing the House GOP bill to a vote on the Senate floor.

It was unclear, however, at the time of this posting whether the Senate would indeed take up the measure if it passes the lower chamber.

Senate Republicans were slated to huddle about the bill during the late afternoon on Jan. 22.

“I’m happy they sent us a debt ceiling not tied to entitlement cuts and dollar-for-dollar [cuts],” Reid said, according to reports. “That’s a big step in the right direction.”

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