Republicans in the House are trying to derail Democratic efforts to lift the national debt limit, though they acknowledge it may be too late this time around.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Friday that Congress needs to raise the limit by at least $1.8 trillion. In response, nearly 50 Republicans in the House have co-sponsored a bill that would make it harder for Congress to raise that ceiling -- which is currently set at $12.1 trillion.
They want Congress to think twice before upping the limit on the national credit card. Congress has raised the limit seven times since 2002, with no end in sight.
"We need to restore fiscal responsibility in Washington and put an end to this out-of-control spending and massive debt that's being dumped onto our children and grandchildren," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said in a written statement. He and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, on Friday unveiled a bill that would require a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House to increase the national debt ceiling. It also would prohibit lawmakers from tacking such measures on to other budget bills.
But Scalise's spokesman, Luke Bolar, acknowledged it is likely too late in the game to stop the Democrats from raising the limit this year. He said the legislation is aimed more at any future attempts to do so.
"The whole legislative process would not happen in time for this round of appropriations," he said. "Ideally you could get it through and pass it as fast as possible."
With the fiscal 2009 deficit at $1.4 trillion and the current debt at $12.09 trillion, advocates of raising the limit say it is essential because the country will probably hit the current limit by the end of the month.
"We expect Congress to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner," a Treasury official said.
Democrats want to hike the ceiling and face the music now rather than deal with the fallout next year, when Republicans could seize on the issue for political gain in the 2010 congressional election.
For now, it appears Democrats are driving ahead with the move to combine legislation raising the debt limit with a bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans also don't have the numbers to pass the Scalise bill without Democratic support, and Bolar said none of the co-sponsors are Democrats.
"We have already raised it in the House but we need to have a vehicle so that the Senate can vote on it, and it is our intention to have something on the Department of Defense bill next week," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Thursday.
But Democrats could face a difficult task in folding the measure into the Defense spending bill, since House rules make that tricky and because attaching a debt measure to a troops funding bill is unpalatable to some lawmakers.
Scalise called on Pelosi Friday to let the defense bill stand on its own, calling the bid to attach the debt limit increase to the troops funding shameless.
"They have made a habit of taking defense appropriation bills, bills that fund the support of our troops, and adding on there the most distasteful things they can think of, trying to make sure they get it passed on the backs of our soldiers," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "It's a bad way of doing business."
He said his party will vote against increasing the limit. Republicans have roundly rejected the move, arguing that it comes as Democrats are pushing a new stimulus package and a nearly $450 billion spending package that provides up to a 10 percent increase in funding to more than a dozen Cabinet departments and agencies.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said Thursday that the government is broke and should be concentrating more on being fiscally responsible. He and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., are pushing legislation calling for a special task force that could force speedy votes on deficit reduction in the next Congress.
Gregg said this "is not a theoretical problem -- it is directly in front of us." And he warned that "the nation will go bankrupt" if spending is not reined in.