WASHINGTON - Democrats and Republicans clashed over deficits and tax cuts Thursday as Congress moved toward sending President Bush (news - web sites) an $800 billion boost in the government's debt limit.
The bill would increase the debt ceiling from its current $7.38 trillion, marking the third massive increase since Bush took office in 2001. The government reached the cap last month, paying its bills since with cash from a civil service retirement account, which it plans to repay.
The Senate approved the legislation Wednesday by a near party-line 52-44 vote. With no alternative but an unprecedented federal default, the House debated the bill Thursday and planned an evening vote.
Democrats were ready to oppose the measure en masse, saying it should have been accompanied by a requirement that tax cuts or new spending be paid for with budget savings. They blamed Bush's tax cuts for the relentless increase in government debt, a trend analysts expect to continue indefinitely, and noted that Republicans delayed the vote until after the Nov. 2 elections.
"That didn't take long," said Rep. James McGovern (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass. "On just the third legislative day after the election, we are yet again confronting the need to raise the nation's debt limit."
Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with the issue. They blamed the recession for the red ink and said failure to increase the debt limit would cause default, higher interest rates and an inability of the government to pay its liabilities.
"We can demagogue it. We can keep putting on all sorts of messages to feel good or draw political lines. ... But the reality is, we keep screwing around with this thing, we're going to shut the government down," said Rep. Thomas Reynolds (news, bio, voting record), R-N.Y.
The debate came as lawmakers moved toward finishing their work for the year and ending what they hope will be an abbreviated lame-duck session. Heading the remaining business is a compromise $388 billion spending package financing most domestic programs.
That overdue measure, which House-Senate bargainers hope to complete by Friday, curbs the recent growth of funds for biomedical research and education. It cuts Bush priorities, including a nuclear waste repository in Nevada, a hydrogen fuel initiative and aid to countries embracing open-market and democratic reforms.
Completion of the debt limit measure would raise the government's borrowing limit to $8.18 trillion. That is $2.23 trillion higher than when Bush became president, and more than eight times the debt President Reagan faced when he took office in 1981.
Democrats noted that the $5.6 trillion in surpluses that were projected for the next 10 years when Bush took office in 2001 have been transformed into $2.3 trillion in deficits now estimated for the coming decade.
"All men having power ought to be mistrusted." ~ James Madison
"The price of greatness is responsibility." -Sir Winston Churchill