House GOP seeks to defuse debt crisis

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With tacit support from President Barack Obama, House Republicans were moving today to try to defuse a potential debt crisis with legislation to prevent an economy-rattling fiscal crisis for at least three months.

The GOP legislation marks a tactical retreat by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is eager to avoid a potential first-ever default on U.S. payment and debt obligations as he wrestles with Obama and his Democratic allies over taxes, spending and the deficit.

Today’s legislation would give the government enough borrowing leeway to meet three months’ worth of obligations, delaying a showdown next month that Republicans fear they would lose.

It also contains a provision that slaps at the Senate, which hasn’t debated a budget since 2009, by withholding the pay for either House or Senate members if the chamber in which they serve fails to pass a budget plan.

The idea driving the move by GOP leaders is to re-sequence a series of upcoming budget battles, taking the threat of a potentially devastating government default off the table and instead setting up a clash in March over automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and many domestic programs. Those cuts — postponed by the recent “fiscal cliff” deal — are the punishment for the failure of a 2011 congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee to reach an agreement.

This “no budget, no pay” idea had previously been regarded by many as a gimmick but has been given new life by Boehner as a “reform” to pair with an increase in the so-called debt limit. Boehner previously had insisted that any increase in borrowing authority to avoid lapses in payments to contractors, unemployment benefits or Social Security checks — and possibly even interest payments on U.S. Treasury obligations — be matched dollar for dollar with spending cuts.

Incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced this morning that Democrats would indeed advance a budget.

House Republicans appeared confident that they’ll have the votes to pass the measure even though most Democrats are expected to vote against it because it sets the stage for another potential debt crisis this summer.

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