Washington Digest

WASHINGTON — Congress last week agreed to allow the government to borrow more money to pay its bills through March 2015.

The Senate and House voted in favor of suspending the debt ceiling as the Treasury warned the federal government could face default as it nears the $17.3 trillion limit.

Most Democrats supported the bill, saying that raising the debt ceiling simply allows the government to fulfill a basic responsibility to pay its bills. Doing otherwise, they warned would be catastrophic to the economy.

Most Republicans opposed the bill, saying it is irresponsible to allow the government to continue to pile up debt without implementing greater fiscal restraint.

Previous agreements to raise the debt ceiling included conditions to reduce the deficit, but this time Republicans did not push for such concessions, fearing voters would blame them for engaging in political brinkmanship.

That was the case last October, when most voters blamed Republican insistence on de-funding the Affordable Care Act for a budget impasse and a 16-day partial government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said passing the extension was the right thing to do.

“It is encouraging that some of my Republican colleagues seem to be regaining their grip on sanity this week,” he said. “A few reasonable House Republicans were willing to join Democrats to avert a catastrophic default on this nation’s obligations.”

The House voted 221-201 for the debt ceiling bill, with 193 Democrats and 28 Republicans voting to pass it.

Reps. Steve Horsford, D-Nev., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted against it. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., did not vote.

In the Senate, conservatives led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attempted to block passage of the debt ceiling bill by forcing a procedural motion that required a 60-vote majority to continue action. A dozen Republicans joined 55 Democrats to move ahead, overcoming the threatened filibuster, 67-31.

Reid voted to move debate. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted with Cruz.

The Senate then voted 55-43 to suspend the debt ceiling to March 15, 2015. The party-line vote sent the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Reid voted in favor. Heller opposed the bill.

MILITARY PENSION CUT RESCINDED

Congress also revoked a $6 billion spending cut that would have fallen on military pension holders of working age.

In December, lawmakers agreed to reduce annual cost-of-living increases for military retirees by 1 percentage point starting in 2015 as part of a larger budget agreement.

About 840,000 of the estimated 2 million military retirees eligible for pensions are younger than age 62 and would have been hurt by the reduction.

Most lawmakers agreed the pension should be fully restored but disagreed about offering an alternative to offset the lost budget savings.

Senate Democrats initially wanted no offset but agreed, in the end, to a House proposal that makes up the estimated $6 billion in savings by tacking on an additional year of across-the-board spending cuts to Medicare in 2024.

The Senate voted, 95-3, in favor of the bill. Reid and Heller voted in favor.

The House approved the bill, 326-90. Horsford and Titus voted for it. Heck opposed the bill. Amodei did not vote.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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