Raising the limit: House action rates a positive presidential response
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House Republicans abandoned their tactic of playing chicken with the federal debt ceiling -- a practice that threatened the nation's credit rating and ability to borrow money to pay its bills. This expression of responsibility Wednesday deserves encouragement, and a degree of reciprocity, from the Obama administration.
Sen. Harry Reid said he will ask his Democratic majority to quickly approve the bill without changes.
GOP lawmakers had threatened to withhold their votes to increase the debt limit next month, as they did in the summer of 2011, to force President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to accept deep spending cuts. Such a gambit could have led to a partial default that would have roiled world financial markets and weakened the U.S. economy by raising interest rates.
The GOP-controlled House voted Wednesday to raise the debt ceiling through mid-May, long enough to allow both chambers of Congress to pass a budget resolution. They also included a grandstanding provision that would dock lawmakers' pay if the new budget measure is not forthcoming.
The new House position offers a better approach to raising revenue and reducing spending to cut the $16 trillion debt. That debate should include proposals to curb the costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Still, there will be other opportunities for fiscal mischief. The $110 billion in across-the-board slashes in defense and discretionary spending that were deferred by the "fiscal cliff" agreement now are scheduled to take effect March 1. The resolution to fund government operations expires March 27, threatening a federal shutdown. Both deadlines could provide new pretexts to set unreasonable conditions and engage in ultimatums.
But the White House and lawmakers of both parties have ample time to engage in productive, good-faith negotiations on both immediate and long-term fiscal issues, rather than renew absolutist positions that are mutually exclusive.
Mr. Obama has conceded in the past the need for entitlement reform; in his inaugural address this week, he described a duty to "make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of the deficit." House Republicans have given him an opening to lead on these issues.
First Published January 24, 2013 12:00 am