The White House Is Relieved That Republicans Are Backing Off 'Holding The Economy Hostage' On The Debt Ceiling

Eric Cantor

Photo: AP

House Republicans have come out of their annual retreat in Williamsburg, Va., with a new strategy on debt-ceiling negotiations: They will raise the nation’s borrowing limit for three months next week to give Senate Democrats the opportunity to pass a budget.A longer-term extension in the debt ceiling would then be contingent on the Senate passing a budget — something it hasn’t done in almost four years. 

Here’s Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s full statement:

“The first step to fixing this problem is to pass a budget that reduces spending. The House has done so, and will again. The Democratic Senate has not passed a budget in almost four years, which is unfair to hardworking taxpayers who expect more from their representatives. That ends this year. 

“We must pay our bills and responsibly budget for our future. Next week, we will authorise a three month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget. Furthermore, if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay. 

“This is the first step to get on the right track, reduce our deficit and get focused on creating better living conditions for our families and children. It’s time to come together and get to work.”

Though the plan appears to have rank-and-file support from Cantor, House Speaker John Boehner and others, it remains to be seen how House Republicans will react to it.

Boehner added his support in a statement:

“Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending. The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year. 

Both Boehner and Cantor threatened that if the Senate did not pass a budget, members of Congress would not be paid, adopting a “No Budget, No Pay” slogan.

Senate Democrats haven’t passed a budget resolution in almost four years, a common Republican gripe. Instead, Congress has passed a series of short-term spending plans.

The Senate is not in session this week, and it’s not yet clear how its members will proceed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement that it was “reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage.”

“If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it,” Reid said.

“As President Obama has said, this issue is too important to middle class families’ economic security to use as a ploy for collecting a ransom. We have an obligation to pay the bills we have already incurred – bills for which many House Republicans voted.”

Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler explained last year how Republican complaints are more political gamesmanship than gripes about anything that could affect actual policy. He wrote that budget resolutions are not enforced by law, and that Congress has worked together instead to pass short-term spending plans like the deals that resulted from the last debt-ceiling fight and from the fiscal cliff.

Here’s how House Whip Steny Hoyer explained it to Beutler:

“What does the budget do? The budget does one thing and really only one thing. It sets the parameters of spending and discretionary caps. Other than that, the Appropriations Committee is not bound by the Budget Committee’s priorities. … The fact is that you don’t need a budget. We can adopt appropriation bills and we can adopt authorization policies without a budget.”

Two examples of that are the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which led to the fiscal cliff — and the American Taxpayer Relief Act, the bill that just passed as a result of the fiscal cliff negotiations. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama in the beginning of January. These laws set binding appropriations caps that control spending for up to a decade.

Rep. Paul Ryan said Thursday that Republicans were discussing a possible short-term increase in the nation’s borrowing limit.

A debt-ceiling hike to April 15 — Tax Day — would set up some appropriate symbolism for the next potential budget fight.

UPDATE: The White House issued a statement Friday afternoon indicating that Obama would be receptive to a clean debt-ceiling hike:

“The President has made clear that Congress has only two options: pay the bills they have racked up, or fail to do so and put our nation into default. We are encouraged that there are signs that Congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on. Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay. And as he has said, the President remains committed to further reducing the deficit in a balanced way.”

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