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Americas

Congressional Republicans relent on US debt ceiling increase

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-12

US House Republicans backed away from another battle over the debt ceiling on Tuesday, allowing Democrats to raise the government’s borrowing ability to pay its bills and avoid a default ahead of the November midterm elections.

The 221-201 vote, carried mainly by Democrats, came hours after Republican House Speaker John Boehner (pictured above) announced that his fractured party would relent.

Only 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner. The move marked a dramatic shift from the confrontational fiscal tactics House Republicans have used over the past three years, which culminated in last October’s 16-day government shutdown, burning Republicans politically – an experience they did not want to repeat.

Nonetheless, Tuesday’s developments amount to a bitter defeat for the Republicans, who have used must-pass debt ceiling legislation measures as leverage to force spending cuts on Democrats. Republicans won more than $2 trillion in spending cuts in a 2011 showdown, but gave President Barack Obama two debt limit increases last year with only modest legislative add-ons.

The measure now goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is expected to easily approve it later in the week.

Election concerns

The bill would permit the Treasury Department to borrow money to pay the government’s bills for another 13 months, diffusing the chance of a debt crisis well past the November midterm elections. Faced with a tough battle over control of the Senate in particular, neither party wants to shoulder the blame for Washington’s dysfunction.

“The full faith and credit [of the United States] should be unquestioned and it is not negotiable,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

Boehner made the announcement after conservatives failed to rally around the plan he floated on Monday to tie lifting the debt ceiling to a measure to reverse cuts to military pensions which were enacted less than two months ago. Democrats insisted on a debt measure clean of unrelated legislation.

Earlier plans to tie a debt cap increase to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline or repeal of part of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, failed as well, stymied by a group of hardline conservatives who vowed never to vote for increasing the government’s debt, which stands at more than $17 trillion.

The measure does not raise the debt limit by a set amount but would suspend it through March 15, 2015 to allow Treasury to borrow the money it needs to pay bills like pension benefits, payments on government debt, and checks for federal workers.

'Confidence boost for investors'

The move reflects a return to the old ways of handling the politically tricky debt ceiling vote in which the president’s party is expected to carry most of the load to pass it.

Boehner said his inability to assemble 218 Republican votes – enough to win a floor vote – for any debt limit plan left him no alternative but to turn to Democrats.

“When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing,” Boehner said. “We’ve seen that before and we see it again.”

The White House applauded the move. Gene Sperling, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said the administration hopes Tuesday’s development means “that the tactic of threatening default or threatening the full faith and credit of the United States for budget debates is over, off the table and never is going to happen again. And if so that would, I think, be a boost for confidence and investment in the US.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-02-12

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