House passes bill to prioritize U.S. debt payments


HOW THEY VOTED

Republican-sponsored measure to prioritize debt and Social Security payments ahead of other obligations if the federal government hits its debt ceiling.

John Barrow (D) N

Sanford Bishop (D) N

Paul Broun (R) Y

Doug Collins (R) Y

Phil Gingrey (R) Y

Tom Graves (R) Y

Hank Johnson (D) N

Jack Kingston (R) Y

John Lewis (D) N

Tom Price (R) Y

Austin Scott (R) Y

David Scott (D) N

Lynn Westmoreland (R) Y

Rob Woodall (R) Y

HOW THEY VOTED

Republican-sponsored measure to prioritize debt and Social Security payments ahead of other obligations if the federal government hits its debt ceiling.

John Carter (R) Y

Lloyd Doggett (D) NV

Blake Farenthold (R) Y

Bill Flores (R) NV

Michael McCaul (R) Y

Lamar Smith (R) Y

Roger Williams (R) Y

HOW THEY VOTED

Republican-sponsored measure to prioritize debt and Social Security payments ahead of other obligations if the federal government hits its debt ceiling.

John Boehner (R) NV*

Steve Chabot (R) Y

Jim Jordan (R) Y

Michael Turner (R) Y

*House speaker customarily does not vote.

HOW THEY VOTED

Republican-sponsored measure to prioritize debt and Social Security payments ahead of other obligations if the federal government hits its debt ceiling.

Ted Deutch (D) N

Lois Frankel (D) N

Alcee Hastings (D) N

Patrick Murphy (D) N

The GOP-controlled House voted Thursday to make sure U.S. bondholders and people on Social Security get paid if the government hits its borrowing limit.

The move comes as Republicans grapple with the hot-potato issue of raising the government’s borrowing limit later this year, one of the few must-do items on a dysfunctional Washington’s agenda this year. The legislation is a nonstarter with Democrats controlling the rest of Washington.

The idea behind Thursday’s legislation, passed on a near party-line 221-207 vote, is to lessen the consequences of a U.S. default on its debt obligations if Congress and President Barack Obama can’t find a way to lift the government’s borrowing limit later this year.

Democrats opposing the legislation said it would guarantee a downgrade of the debt by suggesting the nation would be willing to pay some of its bills and not others. They’ve dubbed it the “Pay China First Act,” saying it prioritizes payments to foreign investors over funding important domestic programs, including benefits for veterans and soldiers, Medicare and companies that do business with the government.

GOP supporters countered that the most damaging thing for the government’s credit rating would be to fail to pay bondholders.

“It is imperative that credit markets are supremely confident that their loans are secure,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

The measure comes as Washington looks ahead to another showdown over must-pass legislation to increase the government’s borrowing cap. The government has reached its current debt limit of $16.4 trillion, but Congress moved in January to allow the Treasury Department to borrow enough money to meet its obligations. That unique authority expires May 18, but the government retains the ability to juggle its books to buy several more months’ worth of time before facing default.

The new legislation would direct the Treasury Department to borrow money to pay bondholders and make sure Social Security is solvent. This additional borrowing authority would give Treasury the capacity to issue enough new debt to stave off the default date for another month or two, according to calculations by the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank in Washington.

The White House has promised to veto the measure in the unlikely event that the Democratic-led Senate approves it

, saying in a statement that “this bill would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, cost American jobs, hurt businesses of all sizes, and do damage to the economy. It would cause the nation to default on payments for Medicare, veterans, national security and many other critical priorities. This legislation is unwise, unworkable and unacceptably risky.”

GOP conservatives say the idea behind the bill is that it’s more important to make sure the government doesn’t default on the “sovereign debt” owed to creditors than make payments on other obligations.

“Paying sovereign debt is not the same thing as borrowing money so that this institution and this town can continue to spend money,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.