White House Avoids Fight With GOP Over Debt Limit Hike

Remember how the Obama administration planned to alert Congress of its intent to raise the debt limit by today? Well, that’s getting kicked back a few days.

An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) says the White House has assured Republicans they will not issue the debt limit request this week, heading off a confrontation between the administration and the GOP over Congress’ power under the debt limit law to block the increased borrowing authority.

Under the terms of the August debt limit agreement, the administration was given the right to raise the debt limit by $2.1 trillion in three tranches, nearly unilaterally. The catch was that Republicans reserved the right for the House and Senate, within a narrow time frame, to block the increase. This caveat was largely symbolic. Democrats control the Senate and wouldn’t undermine President Obama by triggering another debt limit crisis — and even if they did, Obama would reserve the right to veto the so-called “resolution of disapproval.” But it’s a ready-made talking point for the GOP.When the administration announced this week that it intended to initiate the debt ceiling increase by December 30, it stumbled into problem. Congress isn’t set to return from winter recess until January 17 — beyond the 15 day window it has under the law to weigh in on the debt limit increase. Had the administration followed through, Congress — but particularly Republicans — would have had to choose between returning from recess early (and thus entering a big public fight with the administration) and abandoning the debt limit vote.

Seeking to avoid that conflict, the administration will delay the debt limit request by a few days, according to a senior administration official.

In an official statement, White House spokesman Josh Earnest says, “we have been asked by bicameral leadership of Congress to delay certification in order to give both houses time to consider when votes may occur given the current Congressional schedule. The President has agreed to Congress’ request to delay submission of the certification, which he has flexibility to do under the [debt limit law]. The Administration is in discussions with leaders in both houses to determine the best timing for submission of the certification and any subsequent votes in the two houses.”

The substantive consequence here is that the Treasury Department will once again have to undertake some of the extraordinary measures they used in July to assure interest on the debt is paid on time.

Beyond that, it’s another illustration of the clumsy nature of the debt limit agreement, which imposed a number of substantive and procedural requirements on what was until this year a routine act of Congress.