The House plans to vote Feb. 12 to increase the U.S. debt limit and restore cost-of-living raises for military retirees, said Representative Robert Pittenger of North Carolina.
The plan was announced in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, Pittenger told reporters today in Washington. The debt limit would be raised until March 2015, said Republican Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania.
The military retirees’ cost-of-living adjustments had been reduced in a December budget deal. Republicans would pay for the restored benefits by extending cuts in programs including Medicare for one year.
As the party struggles to gather votes for raising the debt ceiling before borrowing authority runs out, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew today took steps to keep the U.S. under the debt ceiling and urged Congress to raise the limit to avoid “potentially catastrophic consequences.”
The Debt Ceiling as a Political Crowbar
Lew said last week that borrowing authority may not last past Feb. 27. Including today, House lawmakers have six working days scheduled before then.
Lew said in a letter today to House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, that he’ll be unable to invest fully the Government Securities Investment Fund, or G Fund, of the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, starting today. That will provide about $175 billion in extra room under the debt limit, according to the Treasury Department.
Lew declared a “debt issuance suspension period” for the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund until Feb. 27.
White House spokesman Jay Carney today reiterated President Barack Obama’s stance that he won’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit.
“We’ll take Republican leaders at their word when they say they won’t let the United States default,” Carney said.
Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican, said the debt limit proposal would need Democratic votes. Republican leaders are starting to count votes tonight, he told reporters after the party meeting.
Lawmakers like the proposal to repeal the cuts in military benefits, “but not necessarily at the expense of Medicare,” Representative Richard Nugent, a Florida Republican, said in an interview.
Boehner joked last week that he couldn’t get enough support from fellow Republicans to pass a debt-limit increase, even if the measure authorized sainthood for Mother Teresa.
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, told reporters today that Boehner hadn’t sought support from Democrats for any measure. He said Republicans should vote for a debt increase to pay for the $1.01 trillion bipartisan budget deal lawmakers agreed to in December.
“They’ve just voted for spending money,” Hoyer said. “Now they’ve got to pay for it.”
Senate Democrats, who insist on a debt-limit increase without conditions, aren’t embracing Republicans’ efforts.
“We can’t possibly comment on every new rumored Republican plan,” Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said earlier today in an e-mail. “We will have to wait and see what they pass, since it’s often a long and winding road from the point that leadership introduces something to the point of actual passage.”
The Senate this week is taking up a stand-alone version of legislation restoring the veterans’ benefit adjustment.
Democrats have said they have the upper hand in the debt showdown and can use their leverage to prevent policy additions.
A suspension of the U.S. debt limit enacted by Congress in October expired Feb. 7. The Treasury Department is using so-called extraordinary measures to stay under the limit.
Lawmakers haven’t ruled out a debt-limit boost without conditions if Republicans can’t get enough support for a plan.
Congress plans to be out of session the week of Feb. 17 and will return to Washington the week of Feb. 24.
Marillyn Hewson, chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT:US)., said today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington that U.S. companies want certainty from Congress on budget and debt issues. She said she is “hopeful” lawmakers will raise the debt ceiling without delay.
The CEO of the Bethesda, Maryland-based contractor said that “elements of uncertainty, when the economy is coming back and things are starting to look better, good jobs and economic growth, these overhangs can stifle that growth.”
Business groups are encouraging lawmakers to act quickly to raise the debt limit.
“Any default by the federal government on its debts would cause devastating, long-lasting effects for all Americans,” the Business Roundtable, which represents major U.S. company chief executive officers, said in a letter to congressional leaders released Feb. 7.
The Financial Services Forum, the American Bankers Association and seven other groups sent a letter to lawmakers Jan. 30, saying the last debt-ceiling deadline debate caused higher interest rates and “weakened investor demand for U.S. assets.”
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