By Chris Casteel
The House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to delay a fight over raising the debt ceiling, averting for now another crisis over the nation's borrowing authority.
A bill to suspend -- rather than raise -- the debt limit until May 18 was approved 285 to 144. Oklahoma's all-Republican delegation split on the measure, with the three veterans voting for it and the two freshmen opposing it.
Rep. James Lankford, ROklahoma City, voted for the bill, calling it "a baby step" toward a plan to reduce federal spending and rein in the growth of entitlements. Republicans will still insist on matching dollar-for-dollar any increase in the debt ceiling with spending cuts, he said.
The bill passed Wednesday requires the House and Senate to approve a budget by April 15 or lawmakers' pay will be withheld. The Senate has not passed a budget for nearly four years, but the Democratic budget chief has pledged to end that streak in 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would schedule a vote soon on the House bill, which is backed by the White House.
"By passing this bill, Republicans are joining Democrats to say we will not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, and we will pay our bills," Reid said.
Rep. Tom Cole, R- Moore, who voted for the House bill on Wednesday, said it was "disgraceful" that Senate Democrats hadn't produced a budget blueprint in years.
The House bill, he said, "sets a schedule for an orderly budgeting process and prevents a repeat of the last-minute fiscal negotiations that harm the economy and jeopardize our credit rating."
Some House Democrats opposed the bill on Wednesday, arguing that it was written by House Republican leaders with no input from rank-and-file members of either party and didn't solve the debt limit problem.
"Kicking the can down the road for three more months is not a solution," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
Freshmen Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, and Markwayne Mullin, RWestville, voted against the bill.
Bridenstine said "suspension of the debt ceiling is more alarming than an increase" and could allow the Obama administration to issue billions of dollars of additional debt.
Moreover, he said, the U.S. Constitution prohibits lawmakers from varying congressional compensation during their current terms. Delaying pay is a form of varying it, he said.
And he said the requirement that the Senate pass a budget didn't mean it would be a fiscally responsible budget.
But Rep. Frank Lucas, RCheyenne, praised the bill for forcing the Senate to "set forth a plan to help tackle our nation's debt disaster."
Even with a delay in the debt ceiling debate, Congress is facing two other important deadlines: In early March, automatic budget cuts -- established in the last debt ceiling fight in 2011 -- are set to go into effect that will hit the Defense Department harder than other areas of government; and in late March, funding for most government departments and agencies will expire.