US Congress turns attention to debt limit battle

Friday, 27 September 2013 00:41 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: The US Congress, struggling to avert a government shutdown next week, was warned by the Obama administration on Wednesday that the Treasury was quickly running out of funds to pay government bills and could soon face a damaging debt default. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew pleaded with Congress to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit and said the Government would not be able to borrow funds past October 17. After that date, only $30 billion would be left in the Treasury’s checking account, putting the country on course to miss crucial debt payments, Lew said. Amid Treasury’s dire default warning, lawmakers grappled with another potential crisis: federal agency shutdowns that could begin with the new fiscal year next Tuesday unless Congress comes up with emergency funds. The money would be used to pay US troops, operate border patrols, provide free school lunches for poor children and thousands of other activities. The Democratic-led Senate is on track to vote on Saturday for legislation to avert government agency shutdowns. But the Republican-led House of Representatives was set for tough fights over the next few days. Both the debt ceiling and government funding measures were complicated by Republican attempts to use the must-do bills to gut President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, known as ‘Obamacare’. At a private meeting with House Democrats on Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reassured lawmakers they would not allow Republicans to include provisions to delay or defund Obamacare in the spending bill. “We are not going to accept anything damaging on Obamacare,” Reid told Democrats, according to an aide at the meeting. Highest risk I have seen Earlier, dishevelled Republican Senator Ted Cruz finished a 21-hour, 19-minute marathon of standing and speaking on the Senate floor, arguing for defunding Obamacare as part of the government-funding bill. Sporting a beard stubble and his blue tie sagging, the first-term Texas senator, believed to have presidential aspirations, compared the healthcare law to the villain in the ‘Friday the 13th’ horror films. “Obamacare is the biggest job-killer in this country and when Jason put on his hockey mask and swung that machete, boy there was carnage like nothing else,” Cruz said. Cruz later voted to advance the temporary spending bill after saying anybody who voted to cut off debate was voting for Obamacare. The White House and Democrats in Congress say Obamacare will provide millions of Americans with health insurance that they otherwise could not afford, while potentially pushing down healthcare costs. With his talk that began at 2:41 p.m. on Tuesday, Cruz approached the 1957 record of 24 hours, 18 minutes, held by late Senator Strom Thurmond, for the longest Senate talk marathon. Reid called Cruz’s effort ‘a big waste of time’, saying it delayed passage of the legislation to keep the government running. Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, told reporters that the chamber’s Republican leaders had not yet reached out to Democrats to discuss keeping the government running and raising the debt limit. House Democratic votes could end up being crucial to passing either bill if House Speaker John Boehner loses too many of his own Republicans. Hoyer fretted about the possibility of a government shutdown, saying, “This is the highest risk I have seen because I see the least willingness to do what is absolutely essential in democracy and that is to work together.”