Obama administration delays request for debt-limit increase after Congress objects

December 30, 2011

The Obama administration has delayed a request to raise the nation’s borrowing limit by $1.2 trillion after congressional leaders objected to a timeline that would have made it difficult for lawmakers to vote on the measure.

The delay recalled the bitter, extended fight over the debt ceiling this summer, when the White House and Congress reached an agreement to raise the borrowing limit at the eleventh hour, before a potential financial default. But the White House described the new delay as a technical maneuver and insisted it would not affect the nation’s creditworthiness.

Under the request the administration had planned to submit Friday, Congress would have had 15 days to say no before the nation’s debt ceiling would automatically have been raised from $15.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion.

But the House is out of session until Jan. 17, and the Senate is gone until Jan. 23. Leaders of both chambers asked the White House to delay its request a few days to allow Congress to take up the measure after returning from winter break, a White House official said Friday.

President Obama agreed and will submit the legislation within several days, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said. The Treasury Department expected the United States to come within $100 billion of its debt limit on Friday, but an administration official said the agency has other accounting measures to keep the nation solvent until the debt limit is increased.

“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,” Earnest said.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said the House wanted a chance “to vote on the resolution of disapproval,” adding that the speaker would have called members back from winter break early if the White House had not agreed to postpone the legislation.

This summer, after the debt-ceiling fight nearly pushed the country into default on its obligations, the Wall Street bond-ratings firm Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. rating from the highest level of AAA to AA-plus, the first markdown in the nation’s history.

Under the agreement reached in August, lawmakers agreed to raise the debt limit in three increments while also implementing $2.4 trillion in budget cuts. The deal, however, also gave Congress the option of voting to block each of the debt-ceiling increases by passing a “resolution of disapproval.” Even if such a resolution were passed, Obama could veto it, and he could be overridden only by a two-thirds supermajority in each chamber.

In September, when the first debt-limit hike was scheduled to take effect, the Republican-led House passed a disapproval resolution, but the Democrat-controlled Senate blocked it and the debt ceiling was raised.

A White House official who requested anonymity to provide procedural details said Obama would veto a disapproval resolution this time but said the administration did not expect that to happen.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.
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