GOP moves to delay debt-ceiling showdown three months

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to regain their

budget footing versus President Barack Obama, Republicans controlling

the House

are moving quickly to try to defuse a potential debt crisis with

legislation to prevent a first-ever U.S. default for at least

three months.

The Republicans are giving up for now on

trying to extract spending cuts from Democrats in return for an increase

in the government's

borrowing cap. But the respite promises to be only temporary, with

the stage still set for major battles between the GOP and

Obama over taxes, spending and deficits.

The first step comes Wednesday with a House vote on GOP-sponsored legislation that would give the government enough borrowing

leeway to meet three months' worth of obligations, delaying a showdown next month that Republicans fear they would lose.

Republicans leaving a two-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon appeared confident that the measure would pass.

While it's commonly assumed that the

Treasury Department wouldn't allow a disastrous default on U.S. Treasury

notes, the prospect

of failing to meet other U.S. obligations such as payments to

contractors, unemployment benefits and Social Security checks

would also be reputation shattering. House Speaker John Boehner,

R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders have made it plain they don't

have the stomach for it.

The legislation is disliked by many

Democrats, but the White House weighed in Tuesday with a statement that

the administration

would not oppose the measure, even though Obama just last week

dismissed incremental increases in the debt ceiling as harmful

to the economy.

"I am not going to have a monthly, or every three months conversation about whether or not we pay our bills," Obama said at

a news conference Jan. 14.

But what was important to the White House about the GOP proposal was that it separated the debt ceiling from other upcoming

fiscal target dates and that it signaled that, at least for now, Republicans were not going to demand a dollar of spending

cuts for every dollar of federal borrowing as Boehner long has demanded.

It also appeared that Senate Democrats would grudgingly accept the bill.

"The Boehner rule of 1-for-1, it's gone," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "So it's a good step forward, and we'll see what

happens."

The idea driving the move by GOP leaders is

to re-sequence a series of upcoming budget battles, taking the threat of

a potentially

devastating government default off the table and instead setting

up a clash in March over automatic across-the-board spending

cuts set to strike the Pentagon and many domestic programs. Those

cuts — postponed by the recent "fiscal cliff" deal — are

the punishment for the failure of a 2011 deficit supercommittee to

reach an agreement.

These across-the-board cuts would pare $85

billion from this year's budget after being delayed from Jan. 1 until

March 1 and

reduced by $24 billion by the recently enacted tax bill. Defense

hawks are particularly upset, saying the Pentagon cuts would

devastate military readiness and cause havoc in defense

contracting. The cuts, called a sequester in Washington-speak, were

never intended to take effect but were instead aimed at driving

the two sides to a large budget bargain in order to avoid

them.

But Republicans and Obama now appear on a

collision course over how to replace the across-the-board cuts. Obama

and his Democratic

allies insist that additional revenues be part of the solution;

Republicans say further tax increases are off the table after

the 10-year, $600 billion-plus increase in taxes on wealthier

earners forced upon Republicans by Obama earlier this month.

"We are not going to raise taxes on the American people," Boehner told reporters.

"We feel by moving the issue of raising the debt ceiling behind the sequestration ... that we reorder things in a way that

Democrats will have to work with," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. "The cuts are the kind of cuts we want, they're just not

in the places we want, but they're also not in the places that the Democrats want. So hopefully they'll be forced to come

to the table and work with us on a bipartisan basis to put them where they need to be, where it has the less pain."

According to the latest calculations, which

account for the recent reduction of this year's sequester from $109

billion to

$85 billion, the Pentagon now faces a 7.3 percentage point

across-the-board cut, while domestic agency budgets would absorb

a 5.1 percent cut. The calculations are not official but were

released Tuesday by Richard Kogan, a respected budget expert

with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank.

"The sequester is arbitrary, but the fact is

that when the sequester goes into effect ... it will have a pretty

dramatic effect

of people's attitudes here in Washington and they may get serious

about cuts to the mandatory side of the spending equation,"

Boehner said, referring to benefit programs like Medicare and food

stamps whose budgets essentially run on autopilot.

GOP leaders have also promised conservatives

that the House will debate a budget blueprint that projects a balanced

federal

budget within a decade. For the past two years, the fiscal plans

of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have contained

strict budget cuts but have never projected balance.

In a slap at the Senate, which hasn't

debated a budget since 2009, the House debt measure would withhold the

pay for either

House or Senate members if the chamber in which they serve fails

to pass a budget plan. This "no budget, no pay" idea had

previously been regarded mostly as a gimmick and had been earlier

dismissed by many lawmakers as unconstitutional since it

seems to run counter to a provision in the Constitution that says

Congress can't change its pay until an election has passed.

To address that problem, the measure would deny pay until Jan. 3, 2015, if either chamber failed to pass a budget.

Schumer said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the

Press" that Democrats are likely to adopt a budget this year. Under

congressional rules,

a joint House-Senate budget resolution is a nonbinding measure

that sets forth an outline for follow-up legislation but doesn't

accomplish any cuts by itself.