WASHINGTON – Legislation to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling for a few months is on its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature, clearing the Senate on Thursday after a series of failed votes on Republican-backed amendments to also cut federal spending.
The GOP measures had little chance of gaining enough Democratic support to reach the 60-vote supermajority hurdle, but they did serve to release some of the pent-up frustration among Republican senators over the bill that will allow the $16.4-trillion debt limit to be raised to continue paying the nation's bills through May.
The final bill was approved 64 to 34.
Obama is expected to swiftly sign the legislation as lawmakers gear up for the next budget showdown: deep automatic spending cuts that will begin to hit the economy March 1 if nothing is done to stop them.
The $1.2 trillion in cuts had once been considered so severe they would force Congress to the negotiating table to devise an alternative deficit-reduction strategy.
But with a month to go before the cuts begin, Congress appears unable to reach a compromise over tax and spending alternatives.
The debt-ceiling legislation will suspend the borrowing authority limit through May 19, even though the Treasury Department would be expected to continue paying the nation’s bills with so-called extraordinary measures through summer.
Another $450 billion in debt is expected to be amassed in that time as the nation’s already accrued bills are paid, pushing the debt load to nearly $17 trillion.
Republicans have been grumbling since House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) engineered passage of the debt-ceiling bill in that chamber last week, complaining that they gave up an opportunity to extract spending reductions from the White House.
To attract GOP support, Boehner tacked on a provision that would withhold lawmakers’ pay if the House or Senate fails to approve a budget for the coming 2014 fiscal year.
Boehner wanted to avoid the potential of a risky credit default if the debt limit was not raised, while pushing on to the next budget fight.