WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed a measure that would increase the federal government's borrowing power enough to keep it from going into default before late September.
But raising the borrowing authority--an annual exercise on Capitol Hill as the government approaches its legal debt ceiling--faces complications in the Senate today. Sponsors of the original Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction law plan to attach a rider that would restore that law's threat of automatic spending cuts.
Likely House opposition to that move promises to keep the measure bouncing back and forth between the two chambers today, the last day before a scheduled three-week congressional recess.
Passes House 216 to 199
The measure, which passed the House 216 to 199, would raise the federal debt limit by $73 billion, to $2.15 trillion. After returning next month, lawmakers could negotiate a longer-range extension carrying the government through most of next year.
The Supreme Court last month struck down the provision in Gramm-Rudman that would force automatic spending cuts if the projected deficit exceeds a series of targets. It ruled that the provision, which gave the comptroller general, who answers to Congress, the power to order the executive branch to make spending cuts, violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine.
To correct the problem, the law's authors have drafted a bill granting the White House budget director the power to order the cuts. The legislation--dubbed Gramm-Rudman II--has passed the Republican-led Senate but faces strong opposition in the House, where leaders of the Democratic majority have expressed concern that it would give too much power to the President.
'A 3-D Movie House'
The House vote on the short-term debt extension came after House Republicans tried unsuccessfully to attach a deficit-reduction bill to it. The bill has passed the House Budget Committee but Democratic leaders say they want to delay action until they know whether further cuts would be required to meet Gramm-Rudman's deficit target.
Mississippi Rep. Trent Lott, the House's second-ranking Republican, complained that the House has come to resemble "a 3-D movie house . . . delaying, deferring and dallying on the tough issues."
The debt measure passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats heavily favoring it and Republicans opposing it.