The House defused one potential debt crisis Wednesday, while a top Republican set the stage for a far broader debate over whether it is possible to actually balance the U.S. budget in coming years.
The House resolved Washington's most immediate fiscal problem by passing a short-term extension of federal borrowing authority. The Senate is expected to follow suit in coming days, which would set aside for now the potentially explosive question of whether the U.S. government might be unable to borrow money to pay its bills...
The government neared the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling on Dec. 31, but the Treasury has juggled assets so it can continue borrowing money. Treasury officials have said this ability will run out as soon as mid-February.
The House bill would "suspend" the debt ceiling into the middle of May. The borrowing limit would then retroactively be increased to account for whatever debt the Treasury issued in the interim period. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit research group, estimated the bill effectively amounts to a $450 billion increase in the debt limit.
Even after May 18, the Treasury could use emergency steps to continue making payments for several additional weeks.