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House passes bill delaying debt limit and fiscal battle

WASHINGTON — Avoiding an economic showdown with President Obama, the House passed legislation Wednesday to eliminate the nation’s statutory borrowing limit until May, without including the dollar-for-dollar spending cuts that Republicans once insisted would have to be part of any debt limit bill.

The 285-144 vote staved off an impasse that could have put the full faith and credit of the US government into doubt and potentially set off economic disaster. Instead, the next Republican showdown with the president will come in March, when the subject will be across-the-board spending cuts first and a possible government shutdown by the end of the month.

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“We know with certainty that a debt crisis is coming to America. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when,’’ Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee last year and current House budget committee chief, said as he vowed to push deep spending cuts.

To give House Republicans a rationale for giving in on the debt ceiling after dropping demands for offsetting cuts, the House bill included a provision that would withhold the pay of lawmakers in a chamber of Congress that fails to pass a budget blueprint by April 15. That allowed House Republicans to turn a spotlight on Senate Democrats, who have not passed a detailed budget blueprint since 2009.

“It took one week in which their paychecks were on the line, and now the Senate is going to step up and do the right thing,’’ Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, said after the vote.

Senate Democratic leaders shrugged off the dictate as a gimmick and claimed victory.

“The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked,’’ said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, thanked House Speaker John Boehner for reversing course and said he would take up and pass the House bill without changes as soon as next week. He said he would then move quickly on a budget plan.

For two years, the House has passed detailed but nonbinding budget plans that would cut domestic programs to levels not seen since World War II. Democrats have demanded what they called a ‘‘balanced approach’’ to deficit reduction.

House Democratic leaders tried to persuade their members to vote against the deal, so as to force as many Republicans as possible to vote to do something most said they would never do: lift the debt ceiling. But 86 Democrats voted yes, more than enough to let 33 Republicans vote no without bringing the bill down.

The vote split the Massachusetts delegation. Voting in favor were: William Keating of Bourne, Stephen Lynch of South Boston, Edward Markey of Malden, Richard Neal of Springfield, John Tierney of Salem, and Niki Tsongas of Lowell. Voting against: Michael Capuano of Somerville, Joseph Kennedy of Brookline, and James McGovern of Worcester.

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