House Democrats scrap long-term increase in debt ceiling, jobs package
By Paul Kane
House Democratic leaders, bowing to opposition from their party's deficit hawks, have decided to move the final must-pass piece of legislation of the year without a long-term increase to the national debt and a large boost in infrastructure funding that was considered a jobs bill.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Monday evening that the proposal floated last week to increase the debt limit by more than $1.8 trillion had been discarded in favor of a more politically acceptable plan to give the Treasury a two-month extension on its current limit of $12.1 trillion, which it is expected to hit by New Year's Eve. The plan calls for raising the cap by $300 billion to $12.4 trillion, according to a source familiar with the decision.
"We're working towards a short-term debt extension," Hoyer told reporters as he emerged from an hour-plus meeting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.
Conservative House Democrats had been demanding, in exchange for their votes to support a large debt limit increase, a law that would force new spending on government programs to be offset by other cuts in federal spending or increases in taxes or fees. Senate Democrats who are concerned about deficits, led by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-S.D.), had been seeking the creation of a powerful new commission that would be able to force reductions in spending.
Aside from the Senate's health-care debate, the final legislative wrangling of the year is over the annual funding bill for the Defense Department, which is slated to receive $626 billion for fiscal 2010, and what other measures to attach to that bill. The debt limit increase had become one of the most controversial, as Republicans have been criticizing Democrats all year for being the party of big government spending as the annual deficit topped $1.4 trillion for 2009.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, said she expects her panel to soon consider two pieces of legislation, one being the defense measure with some pieces that have garnered broad agreement among Democrats on both ends of the Capitol. Sources familiar with those talks suggested that this package would include the defense bill, a one-year extension of the estate tax at current levels, a two-month extension of the debt limit and an extension of unemployment benefits.
Other items that could be included are an extension of the Patriot Act and federal highway funding plans. A vote could come by Wednesday.
Eager to show some movement to improve what has been a bleak picture for employment, House Democrats will move a second legislative package later this week including tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and other items designed to create more jobs. But the jobs bill is not expected to even be considered in the Senate, where Democrats have balked at including such a pricey package without spending much time considering it. Senate Democrats have indicated that they will take up their own jobs legislation in January after they conclude their consideration of health-care legislation.
With federal funding for the Pentagon set to expire Friday night, the House is likely to pass a short-term resolution that keeps funds flowing at current levels so the Senate can stay focused on health care, possibly finishing over the weekend, and then take up the defense spending bill early next week. Senate GOP aides conceded that a pared-back defense bill -- without the massive increase in the debt limit or a big jobs package -- could have a smoother ride to passage and assure that Congress is adjourned before Christmas.
The Senate, with its super-majority rules, has proved to be the highest hurdle in the legislative endgame. Hoyer said his leadership team's motivation was based almost entirely on one objective: "what we can get through the Senate."
Washington Post Editor
December 14, 2009; 8:10 PM ET
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