WASHINGTON Republicans who control the U.S. House of Representatives have penciled in a possible vote next week on legislation to raise the debt limit, a sign that they are moving closer to deciding whether to try to attach conditions to any increase.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Friday left a spot open in his weekly House floor schedule for "possible consideration of the legislation related to the debt limit" on Wednesday.
A temporary extension of the $17 trillion U.S. debt ceiling expires at midnight on Friday, forcing the U.S. Treasury Department to resort to extraordinary cash management measures to ensure that it can continue to borrow to pay federal obligations.
But the Treasury has said it expects to exhaust these measures by the end of the month, putting it at risk of missing some payments if the ceiling is not lifted by then.
Cantor's schedule did not indicate a specific bill, or whether any legislation would contain conditions or be the "clean" increase sought by President Barack Obama.
Republicans say they oppose a "clean" increase without some measures to reduce deficits or boost economic growth. But the party has struggled to agree on a plan that can win Republican support and still be accepted by Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate, who are insisting on an increase without any conditions.
But unlike past episodes, lawmakers this time around are largely steering clear of any default threats that could provoke financial market turmoil.
"I'm confident that the United States is not going to default on its debt, and we will resolve the need to increase the borrowing authority of this country prior to any deadline that the Treasury issues," Cantor said on Thursday on the House floor.
An influential corporate chief executives group again weighed in on the matter, urging congressional leaders in a letter to swiftly pass a debt limit increase to avoid uncertainty and a potential increase in borrowing costs.
"Any default by the federal government on its debts would cause devastating, long-lasting effects for all Americans," wrote two top officers of the Business Roundtable, AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson and United Technologies Chairman Louis Chenevert.
"Further, prolonged inaction that takes the government up to the precipice would foster uncertainty, dampen consumer and business confidence, risk higher borrowing costs, and could have immediate consequences for hiring and investment," the executives wrote in the letter released on Friday.
The House currently has only seven more legislative days scheduled through the end of February in which to pass an increase. The House will be out of session Feb 13-24 to accommodate a retreat for Democratic members late next week and a President's Day holiday recess the following week.
(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)