WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House voted last week for a bill that would allow the federal government to continue borrowing to pay its bills over the next three months.
The legislation, which was approved 285-144, was needed to avoid a potential government default as the Treasury Department bumped up against a $16.4 trillion debt ceiling.
In approving the bill, Republicans who control the House dropped their insistence that any increase in debt be accompanied by corresponding spending cuts. Instead, they included language to force the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a budget by April 16 or else have their pay placed in escrow.
Republican proponents focused on the “No Budget, No Pay” slogan in championing the bill that they claim is a step toward balancing the federal budget within the decade. The Senate has not approved a budget resolution in more than three years.
“It’s time for Congress to get serious about this, and this is the first step in an effort to bring real fiscal responsibility to Washington. It’s real simple. No budget, no pay,” said House Speaker John Boehner.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer spoke against the bill, calling it a gimmick that fails to provide long-term certainty to the economy.
“This bill kicks the can down the road for 90 days one more time,” Hoyer said.
Questions were also raised over the constitutionality of the bill. Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa, said the language of the 27th Amendment is clear and unambiguous against “varying the compensation” of sitting lawmakers.
Proponents, however, said the bill circumvented that hurdle by simply withholding paychecks until a budget resolution is passed or until the 113th Congress concludes.
Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., voted for the bill. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., voted against it.
The Senate adopted modest changes to its filibuster rules aimed at speeding business while preserving the right of senators to slow down consideration of bills and nominations.
A key modification would essentially allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring bills to the floor without facing an initial filibuster threat so long as Republicans can offer two amendments.
Reid has complained that Republicans abused the filibuster and made it nearly impossible to conduct business during the last session. Republicans, in turn, complained that Reid abused his powers in denying them the right to offer amendments, thus forcing them to filibuster.
The Senate voted 78-16 for the change that applies only to the current two-year congressional session.
Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., voted for the change.
The Senate also agreed to make several permanent changes to its rules aimed at shortening debate on bills if the top Democrat and Republican leaders, plus seven Democrats and seven Republicans, can agree.
The Senate voted 86-9 for those changes.
Cantwell and Murray voted for the changes.