As a Nov. 3 deadline to raise the debt ceiling looms, the House is set to vote on a bill this week that critics have labeled a cop out on Congress’ duty to raise the debt limit and avoid defaulting on the national debt.
The bill — dubbed the “Default Prevention Act” — would direct the Treasury Department, in the event of a debt ceiling breach, to continue to borrow in order to keep paying Social Security, as well the principal and interest on public debt. But the government would not be able to borrow for any of its other functions until the debt ceiling was raised.
The bill is moving forward even though Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is reportedly signaling privately that he will advance a clean debt ceiling hike with the help of Democratic votes before he leaves office, thereby avoiding a debt default.
The bill was advanced out of the House Ways and Means Committee by a party-line vote in September, where Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) claimed the bill “takes default off the table,” according to the Washington Post. Democrats meanwhile have slammed it as a cop-out, with the committee’s ranking member Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) accusing Republicans of “trying to squirm out of it by some sort of technical definition of default.”
The Treasury Department has also come out against the bill and has argued that prioritizing where payments go isn’t even feasible.
“We don’t have the capacity to pick and choose, ‘We’ll pay this bill and not that bill.’ The systems were not set up for that purpose,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Fox Business Network Thursday.
Nevertheless, the House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday evening, teeing it up for a possible Wednesday floor vote.
The bill would likely face a veto by the president, if not a filibuster by Democrats in the Senate, where a similar House-passed bill died in 2013 ahead of another debt ceiling showdown.
The bill will come to a vote in the House while the House GOP is in chaos over Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) decision to step down. GOP sources had signaled privately that leadership is considering moving a “clean” debt ceiling vote, meaning without any riders or concession-seeking. Such a maneuver is already prompting push back from conservative hardliners and the “Default Prevention Act” could be a sign Republicans are gearing up for a fight over the debt ceiling after all.
“This legislation is a marker. Republicans are getting ready to default,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said of the bill last month, according to the Huffington Post.
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