Legislation raising the ceiling on the national debt to $5.5 trillion - enough for another year and a half of deficit spending - cleared Congress on Thursday.
GOP leaders packaged the politically distasteful measure with several planks of their “Contract With America” and it passed the House by a 328-91 vote. The Senate later OK’d it with an unrecorded voice vote.
President Clinton’s signature is needed by midnight Friday to avert a first-ever federal default. The Treasury Department has been juggling accounts since the government bumped against the present $4.9 trillion last fall.
“The president’s prepared to act … the minute the legislation’s available,” White House spokesman Mike McCurry said.
Congress also sent Clinton another measure in the GOP contract a line-item veto that will give the president authority beginning next January to excise individual programs or projects in lawmakers’ appropriations bills.
Meanwhile, House and Senate lawmakers reported progress - but no overall deal - as they worked in marathon sessions for a compromise on spending legislation appropriating roughly $160 billion to dozens of federal agencies and departments for the six months remaining in fiscal 1996.
The unrelated provisions in the debt-limit bill include an increase in Social Security benefits for working recipients and new authority for small businesses to challenge federal regulations in court.
A preliminary, 232-177 vote, setting the rules for debating the package, sent separate legislation to the White House giving the president veto authority to strip individual items from spending bills beginning Jan. 1.
Republicans had titled the debt-limit increase, “The Contract With America Advancement Act of 1996,” and said its passage represented their determination to enact as much of their 1994 campaign agenda as could escape Clinton’s veto.
“Many were counting us out by the end of last year,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. “But we are back.”
Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas scoffed, “If this is an advance of the Contract of America … then some of our Republican colleagues can’t tell backwards from forwards.”