Senate debate on debt limit to begin Wednesday, aide says
Updated 6:03 p.m.
By Lori Montgomery
The Senate will open debate Wednesday -- as expected -- on a plan to raise the nation's debt limit, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday afternoon.
Spokesman Jim Manley had said earlier Tuesday that the Senate would put off that debate until at least next week, while leaders tried to assemble the votes for passage, but hours later he said he had been mistaken and that the debate would proceed as scheduled. The Senate is not likely to vote on the contentious proposal until next week.
The effort to boost the legal ceiling for borrowing above $13 trillion has been complicated by Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts, which could deliver Republicans a 41st vote in the Senate. Democrats already needed the vote of a Republican, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, to raise the ceiling to $12.4 trillion on Christmas Eve. This time, Democrats are hoping for a larger increase that will see the Treasury through this fall's congressional elections, so lawmakers don't have to confront the contentious matter again before facing voters.
A bloc of Senate moderates, however, is threatening to block a substantial increase unless Washington creates an independent budget commission to draft a plan to dig the nation out of debt. Leaders of that faction acknowledge that they do not have the votes to push a commission through the Senate as an amendment to the debt limit increase.
For weeks, Vice President Biden has been hosting talks to try to work out an alternative. The group was scheduled to meet again late Tuesday.
A participant in those talks, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said discussion is focused on a fallback strategy under which President Obama would create a commission by executive order. That idea has so far failed to satisfy the moderates, however, who argue that a presidentially appointed commission would lack the power to force Congress to adopt its recommendations.
"It's a fraud among anyone interested in fiscal responsibility to claim an executive order could structure something that would actually lead to action," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), one of those urging the creation of such a commisison.
Voinovich also met Tuesday with Obama at the White House.
The current rate of federal spending will require lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling by mid-February.
January 19, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Economy
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