By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House approved a bill 285-144 to extend the nation's $16.4 debt ceiling through May 18 in order to avert a U.S. default on its legal obligations and buy Washington more time to negotiate budget priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Wednesday the Senate would pass the bill soon, and the White House said Tuesday that President Obama would sign it when it reaches his desk. The debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, but rather pays for debts already accrued by the U.S. government.
The proposal, initiated by House Republicans, includes a provision that requires the House and Senate to pass respective chamber budgets by April 15, or the salaries for the lawmakers in their chamber will be held in escrow until a budget is passed, or the Congress ends in two years.
The short-term fix gives Congress some breathing room on the debt-limit deadline, but there remain other budget deadlines that lawmakers have to address. On March 1, across-the-board spending cuts that were delayed in the year end "fiscal cliff" deal kick in again. On March 27, the current funding for the federal government runs out, raising the threat of another shutdown fight.
At the same time, Congress is poised to embark on the annual budget process. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has set a top line goal of balancing the budget within 10 years without raising new revenue.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Wednesday that the Senate will pass a budget this year -- the first time since 2009. In a statement, she said the budget would reflect "middle-class budget values and priorities."