WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday approved a short-term debt ceiling fix that would extend the country’s borrowing authority until May – while also applying a controversial provision that would suspend lawmakers’ pay if they don’t pass a budget by April.
The measure, if approved by the Senate, would buy lawmakers some breathing room to hammer out details for a more permanent solution.
The bill passed on a 285-144 vote, with 86 Democrats supporting it and 33 Republicans opposing.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to approve the debt bill quickly. The White House welcomed the legislation rather than face the threat of a first-ever default at the dawn of the president's second term in the White House, and spokesman Jay Carney pointedly noted a "fundamental change" in strategy by the GOP.
House Republicans cast the bill as a way to force the Senate to draft a budget for the first time in four years, noting that if either house fails to do so, its members' pay would be withheld. They called the bill "no budget, no pay."
Not everyone was on board with the move.
Reports surfaced that House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged fellow Democrats to vote against the proposal to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling. Pelosi also told reporters that there was "sort of a booby trap in the bill."
“This will take the process down the road,” Pelosi told reporters. “I just think it’s the wrong path to go down." She noted it was only a short-term solution, not a "big deal."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid had a different take.
“I am pleased that Speaker Boehner and his House colleagues have decided to change course and pass a bill that defuses yet another fight over the debt ceiling.”
He indicated his caucus would accept the bill as is. The move lifts the immediate threat of the country going into default but does little to address the larger issue.
House Republicans pitched the measure as a solid step toward fiscal stability. House Speaker John Boehner attached a provision to the bill that forces Congress to pass a budget or risk having lawmakers' salaries held.
“It has been 1,365 days since the U.S. Senate last passed a budget. If families and businesses must adhere to a budget, why shouldn’t the U.S. government?" Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said. "House Republicans have done our job year after year – putting forth a bold, responsible plan to correct the nation’s fiscal course. We will do so again this year with a plan that will come to balance within 10 years."
The "no budget, no pay" idea has been floated before but was mostly written off as a gimmick.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Wednesday that the Senate would indeed debate a budget this year but maintained the GOP's "no budget, no pay" move had nothing to do with the decision.
The provision has run into complaints that it's not constitutional. Critics point to the 27th Amendment, which states: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."
House Republican leadership, though, suggests plan would not violate the 27th Amendment because it would temporarily withhold pay, as opposed to reducing pay. Under the plan, members' pay would be put in escrow starting on April 15 for any chamber that hasn't passed a budget resolution.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.