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House lifts debt ceiling. What does it mean?

Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. John Boehner (2ndL) leaves from the Capitol building with his security detail on February 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner and 27 other Republicans joined with House Democrats in passing legislation to suspend the borrowing limit without any policy conditions.

The House of Representatives voted 211-201 to pass an increase to the government’s borrowing limit. Here’s what you need to know.

What happened? We officially hit the debt ceiling a few days ago, and since then the Treasury has been moving money among accounts to keep the country solvent. Those “extraordinary measures” could hold us over until about Feb. 27, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. After that, the U.S. might not be able to pay bills it already incurred. The House is going on a recess tomorrow, and with a snowstorm heading to Washington, lawmakers decided they wouldn’t wait until that deadline.

What did not happen? There had been talk of attaching strings to an increase – everything from administration approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project, to changes to the Affordable Care Act, to rolling back changes to military pensions that were part of a budget deal in December. None of those strings was attached.

What does it mean? So long as the bill passes the Senate, the U.S. will continue to pay its bills until March 2015, which is only 13 months away but is a long time in the cadence of Washington. 

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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