WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Barack Obama drama-free legislation Thursday raising the debt ceiling, averting a government default and putting off the next tax-and-spending clash between the White House and Republicans until later in the year.
The measure cleared the Senate on a 64-34 vote after winning House approval last week. It lets the Treasury borrow above the current $16.4 trillion debt limit through May 18. The White House has said Obama will sign it.
The legislation reflects a switch in strategy by Republicans, whose insistence on deep spending cuts as a trade-off for a higher debt limit more than a year ago pushed the government to the brink of an unprecedented default. With polls showing their public support lagging, they now look ahead to a new season of potential showdowns with a reshuffled batting order that moves the threat of a default to the back of a line that includes March 1 across-the-board spending cuts and the March 27 expiration of funding for most federal agencies.
The debt limit measure came with only one string attached by House Republicans: a provision that would temporarily withhold the pay of lawmakers in either house that failed to produce a budget this year. That was designed as a prod to the Senate, where majority Democrats have failed to bring a budget to a vote in any of the past three years. This year, they say they will.
Already, the next conflict over budget priorities is taking shape, in an environment that includes a fresh report that the economy unexpectedly declined in the last quarter, and the emergence of a warning from the Pentagon's top uniformed officers that pending defense cuts could lead to a "hollow force."
Obama and Democrats say they are prepared for further deficit reduction compromise, although they stress they want increased tax revenue as part of any deal.
Republicans want spending cuts only, after reluctantly swallowing $600 billion in higher taxes as part of a "fiscal cliff" compromise late last year.