Washington (AFP) – U.S. Republicans capitulated to President Barack Obama’s call to extend the nation’s borrowing authority with no strings attached, dialing back the threat of an election-year fiscal showdown.
The House of Representatives narrowly approved a measure to suspend the U.S. debt ceiling until March 2015. It now moves to the Senate, which will begin debating the bill Wednesday.
A drama-free extension of borrowing authority without other conditions would mark a shift away from recent confrontations that brought the world’s largest economy to the brink of default, culminating in the U.S. government being shuttered for 16 days last October.
It could also avoid the turmoil that rocked U.S. and international markets during the previous debt limit fights.
House Speaker John Boehner, unable to gain sufficient support from his fractured party for a plan he unveiled Monday that would have tied the debt limit to a revision of military pension benefits, introduced the debt ceiling bill knowing it would need support from nearly all Democrats.
The legislation passed by 221 votes to 201, a clear victory for Obama in the wake of the shutdown that Americans blamed largely on Republicans.
Boehner said it was “a lost opportunity” to work together to find cuts and reforms equal to the increase in the debt limit.
But when his earlier plan collapsed he offered a debt ceiling hike with no accompanying legislation, violating his own principle, put forward in 2011, that extension of borrowing authority be accompanied with federal spending cuts in equal measure.
Vice President Joe Biden said Boehner’s stand-down was “a victory for the country,” while the White House called the vote “a positive step in moving away from the political brinkmanship that’s a needless drag on our economy.”
Boehner said Obama was clearly “the one driving up the debt,” currently at $17.3 trillion, and that the president will be forced to own it as lawmakers gear up for campaign season ahead of November’s mid-term elections.
“Only in Washington would the solution to a $17 trillion national debt be an increase in our borrowing limit,” frustrated House Republican Jason Smith said.
The measure now heads to the Senate. Legislation there can bog down in procedural votes, and a delay would risk the government’s ability to pay all of its bills.
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell was silent on whether his members would seek to force a 60-vote threshold to advance the measure in the 100-seat body. That would require Republicans to join Democrats to move the bill forward.