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February 1, 2013

Congress passes legislation raising debt ceiling

WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Barack Obama drama-free legislation on Thursday raising the debt ceiling, averting a government default and putting off the next tax-and-spending clash between the White House and Republicans until later in the year.

The measure cleared the Senate on a vote of 64-34 after winning House approval late last week. It permits the Treasury to borrow above the current $16.4 trillion debt limit through May 18. The White House has said Obama will sign it.

“Failure to pass this bill will set off an unpredictable financial panic that would plunge not only the United States but much of the world back into recession,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said before the vote. “Every single American would feel the economic impact.”

But Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor that “government spending is completely out of control — and it’s projected to get much worse in years to come.” His office issued a statement shortly after the vote saying he had opposed the legislation after Democrats torpedoed several GOP attempts to rein in spending before final passage.

The legislation reflects a switch in strategy by Republicans, whose insistence on deep spending cuts as a trade-off for a higher debt limit more than a year ago pushed the government to the brink of an unprecedented default. With polls showing their public support lagging, they now look ahead to a new season of potential showdowns, with a reshuffled batting order that moves the threat of a default to the back of a line that includes March 1 across-the-board spending cuts and the March 27 expiration of funding for most federal agencies.

In all, 50 Democrats, 12 Republicans and two independents voted in favor of the debt limit bill, while 33 Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed it.

The debt limit measure came with only one string attached by House Republicans, a provision that would temporarily withhold the pay of lawmakers in either house that failed to produce a budget this year.

That was designed as a prod to the Senate, where majority Democrats have failed to bring a budget to a vote in any of the past three years. This year, they say they will. Republicans say they are eager for a comparison of plans, rather than a long year spent defending one of their own.

Already, the next conflict over budget priorities is taking shape, in an environment includes a fresh report that the economy unexpectedly declined in the last quarter, and the emergence of a warning from the Pentagon’s top uniformed officers that pending defense cuts could lead to a “hollow force.”

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