Evan Vucci/AP

House Suspends Debt Limit for 13 Months

Chamber also passes separate bill to reverse cuts to pensions of working-age retirees.

The House on Tuesday evening voted to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling through March 15, 2015.

The Senate likely will pass the debt ceiling bill later this week. Lawmakers have until Feb. 27 to raise or again suspend the debt limit without risking default, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The debt ceiling, which was suspended in October 2013, was reinstated and reached again on Feb. 7, at which point the Treasury Department used “extraordinary measures” to prevent the nation from defaulting.

House Republican leadership opted on Tuesday to bring a “clean” bill on the debt limit to the floor, instead of tying it to a repeal of cuts to some military pensions. The chamber held a separate vote earlier Tuesday on the pension bill, restoring full cost-of-living adjustments to working-age military retirees by reversing a provision included in the two-year budget agreement.

The bill, which garnered very little Republican support and passed in a 221-201 vote, will suspend the $17.2 trillion debt ceiling through March 15, 2015.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, decided to separate the bills after he determined he did not have the votes necessary to move forward with combined legislation. Democrats in the House and Senate, as well as President Obama, have said they would not support any debt limit bill that was not “clean,” meaning without other provisions attached. The House was originally scheduled to vote on both bills Wednesday, but decided to expedite the process because of an impending snowstorm expected to hit the Washington, D.C. area.

House Republicans have said any move to undo the COLA reduction must include a “pay-for,” and their bill included a one-year extension of sequestration spending caps on Medicare to offset the costs. The House considered the legislation under a suspension of the rules, meaning the bill required a two-thirds majority to pass, a threshold it cleared easily.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., voiced opposition to the bill prior to the vote, saying it was reducing the cuts to one group on the back of another.

“This is just the latest demonstration of why we cannot achieve the kind of comprehensive deficit reduction we need by way of small, piecemeal efforts that only ask one group to contribute -- whether they are our nation’s veterans, federal employees, or anyone else,” Hoyer said. Despite opposition from Hoyer and other House Democratic leadership, such as from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the bill won support from a majority of Democrats.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who co-authored the budget deal that instituted the cuts and has long advocated slashing compensation packages for those in federal service, expressed disappointment over the House’s vote on reversing the military COLA reductions.

“I’m glad it keeps the compensation reforms for federal employees and billions of dollars in commonsense cuts,” Ryan said in a statement. “But on military compensation, it takes a step back.”

A bill to repeal the 1 percent cut to cost-of-living adjustments for members of the military who retire before the age of 62 unanimously cleared an initial hurdle in the Senate on Monday night. That measure, which the Senate planned to vote on as early as Tuesday night, does not include any provisions to offset the $6 billion price tag of reinstituting the full COLA.

“We need to keep our promises to our veterans, no exceptions,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who co-sponsored the bill. “These brave men and women have earned these benefits through their sacrifice to our country. I am proud that the Senate voted to move forward on honoring our commitment to these veterans and their families today.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who introduced the bill, said there was plenty of time to figure out a pay-for in the weeks and months ahead.

“I’m totally open to talking to people about how to pay for this how we go,” Pryor said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “But let’s for crying out loud not send the message to our veterans that we’re going to balance the budget on their back.”

Nearly everyone in Congress has agreed to roll back the COLA cuts for working-age military retirees, but lawmakers have failed to reach bipartisan agreement on if, and how, they should pay for the repeal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was opposed to the current House plan. When the Senate votes on the clean pension restoration bill, Reid said he will allow a vote on New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s amendment to pay for the repeal by barring illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit.