* Bill allows US government to borrow until May 19
* White House, some Democrats prefer long-term solution
* Republicans aim to shift focus of budget battles
By Mark Felsenthal and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Jan 22 A measure to extend the U.S.
debt limit for nearly four months moved closer on Tuesday to a
vote and the White House said the president would sign the bill
if it cleared Congress, easing uncertainty that could have
threatened the U.S. economy.
The debt limit "suspension," which would allow the
government to borrow money until May 19, is due to come to a
vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on
Wednesday without amendments.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas said
he believed the measure would achieve "near unanimous support"
from the House Republican caucus, which would guarantee its
President Barack Obama "would not stand in the way of the
bill becoming law," White House spokesman Jay Carney said
earlier at a briefing. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid has similarly expressed approval.
The administration and some Democrats made clear on Tuesday
they would prefer a longer-term reprieve from having again to
seek an expansion of the nation's borrowing capacity. But the
White House welcomed movement on the contentious issue, which
has financial markets worried about a self-engineered U.S. debt
"What happened ... was a very significant development in
terms of de-escalating the sense of conflict over this," Carney
Even a sermon delivered at a traditional prayer service at
Washington's National Cathedral a day after Obama's inauguration
cited the clash over the debt limit as a strain on the nation's
Reverend Adam Hamilton, a Methodist pastor from Leawood,
Kansas, told the attendees, which included Obama, that "to many
Americans we seem like a house divided that cannot stand"
because of political bickering and discord over issues like the
national debt ceiling and healthcare.
Hamilton likened the partisan rancor in Washington to the
Old Testament friction between Moses and his people as he led
them out of Egypt.
REPUBLICANS FALL IN LINE
The United States is on track to run out of room under its
congressionally-imposed borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion
sometime between mid-February and early March, and a vote to
suspend the debt ceiling would take the prospect of default off
the table at least temporarily.
"I'm glad we are not facing a crisis here in a matter of a
few days," Reid of Nevada said.
As the debt limit bill moved through Congress on Tuesday,
some lawmakers expressed concern the short-term nature of the
measure would not calm jittery financial markets. The
conservative group FreedomWorks urged lawmakers to oppose it,
saying it failed to cut spending.
But another conservative group, Club for Growth, said it
would not oppose the measure but instead save its energy to push
for spending cuts and limits to government growth in the
remaining budget debates.
Congressional Republicans have in the past balked at raising
the debt cap without securing matching or greater spending cuts
in exchange, and have raised the specter of default as a
But they backed down from that stance at a policy retreat
last week, preferring to shift the focus of budget battles with
the White House to a March 1 date for automatic deep spending
cuts and a March 27 expiration of funding for government
agencies and programs.
Instead of making budget cuts a precondition for expanding
U.S. borrowing authority, the Republican bill would require both
the House and Senate to pass budgets by April 15, on pain of
having members' paychecks withheld should they fail to do so.
The White House cautioned that an extension only would push
a debt ceiling crisis into the not-too-distant future.
"A temporary solution is not enough to remove the threat of
default that Republicans in the Congress have held over the
economy," the White House's budget office said in a statement.
Republicans, even those who have chafed under the leadership
of Speaker John Boehner, fell in line behind the debt ceiling
"I am actually okay with what leadership is doing right
now," said Idaho Representative Raul Labrador, who was one of
the 12 conservative House members who tried to oust Boehner as
the House leader in early January.