A measure that would allow the US federal
government to continue borrowing money for the next four months
passed the lower House of Representatives Wednesday, removing at
least temporarily the threat of default.
The 285-144 vote would suspend the country's debt limit until May 19, allowing the government to continue borrowing money to meet immediate needs.
The move diffuses tension with US President Barack Obama over the issue after he had demanded an increase of the debt limit in the latest clash point between the Republicans and Obama's Democrats.
Republicans who control the House put forward the proposal to avert the immediate default threat, but included language that forces the Democrats in control of the upper Senate to vote on a budget before a longer-term deal.
"It's time for Congress to get serious about this and this is the first step in an effort to bring real responsibility to Washington," said Speaker of the House John Boehner, the leader of House majority Republicans.
The US Treasury says that the current 16.4-trillion-dollar debt limit must be raised by the end of February.
The debt-limit suspension would give Congress and the White House time to forge a budget plan including medium-term reduction of the government's operating deficit, which has annually topped 1 trillion dollars for the last several years.
The measure, introduced by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, would also withhold pay from House and Senate members starting in April, until a budget is passed.
The pay measure is intended to force the Senate to act on the budget.
The House, where the conservative Republican Party has held a majority since January 2011, has continued to pass annual budgets. The Senate, controlled by Obama's left-leaning Democrats, has not passed a full federal budget in four years, forcing Congress to continually pass short-term measures to keep the government running.
"It's simple no budget, no pay," Camp said. "The American people understand that they don't get paid if they don't do their job and neither should members of Congress."
The White House and Senate Democrats indicated they would not stand in the way of the measure.
Harry Reid, leader of the majority Democrats in the Senate, welcomed the passage, saying it "defuses yet another fight over the debt ceiling."
"By passing this bill, Republicans are joining Democrats to say we will not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, and we will pay our bills," he said.
Democrats in the House however decried the measure as a "political gimmick."
"You will not get there with gimmicks, you will not get there with pretence, you will not get there with irresponsibility and kick the can down the road," said Congressman Steny Hoyer, who called for a longer term extension of the debt limit.
The White House called the House passage "welcome development." Spokesman Jay Carney indicated Obama would prefer a longer term solution but would sign the bill into law.
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