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GOP debt-ceiling bill would halt lawmaker pay if Congress doesn’t forge budget deal

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Lawmakers agreed to freeze congressional salaries as part of the short-term deal they reached to avoid the fiscal cliff, but a new debt-ceiling proposal introduced late last week could affect their pay more severely — at least in the short-term.

The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a GOP bill that would suspend the nation’s borrowing limit until May 18. That measure would also withhold lawmakers’ paychecks starting on April 15 — which happens to coincide with “tax day” — until they strike a comprehensive deal on taxes and spending policy.

The money held back would go into escrow, meaning lawmakers wouldn’t miss out on it altogether. They could collect the funds once they’ve negotiated a longer-term budget plan.

(Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg) (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

The debt-ceiling bill would allow the government to borrow more money while providing cover to Republicans who don’t want to raise the nation’s borrowing limit without serious spending cuts in return.

The plan lets GOP lawmakers off the hook on a technicality. The nation avoids default, and Republicans can argue that they didn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling.

For what it’s worth, the measure only allows the Treasury Department to borrow what the government needs to meet its immediate obligations, and administration officials would be prohibited from stocking up on extra cash during the debt-limit suspension.

Key members of both parties, including the president, seem ready to accept the proposal, which Republicans are calling “No Budget, No Pay.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that the president will not try to block the legislation if it passes the House.

In a statement of mixed enthusiasm, the White House Budget Office said later that day that the measure “introduces unnecessary complications” but that the administration is encouraged “Republicans have backed off an insistence on holding the Nation’s economy hostage.”

A growing number of key Republicans are on board with the GOP plan as well. Washington Post congressional correspondent Lori Montgomery reported Tuesday that “a small but influential clutch of conservative lawmakers signaled that they would support the bill, as long as top leaders keep a vow to vote soon on a 2014 budget plan that would balance the budget within the next decade.”

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Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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