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Bush calls for higher debt ceiling

From Christy Brennan
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Tuesday made his first direct plea to Congress to increase the amount of money the federal government can borrow, saying that raising the debt limit was an "important priority," like the war on terrorism.

"As we fight for freedom, we must not imperil the full faith and credit of the United States government and the soundness and strength of the American economy," Bush said in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri.

Bush chided the House of Representatives for failing to pass the measure, which he said led the Treasury Department to use various bookkeeping measures to have enough money to fund government programs.

He did not specify whether the United States would default on payments if the ceiling were not raised.

"The treasury has had to take extraordinary measures to allow the United States government to continue to function normally as a result of the failure of the Congress to act. These are temporary measures, not an excuse for the Congress to fail to fulfill their duties," the president wrote.

In the letter, Bush cited the "economic slowdown that began in the summer of 2000, the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the ongoing expense of the war" as reasons the government needs to extend its ability to borrow money.

Raising the debt ceiling has been stalled in the House, in part due to Democrats who say the Bush administration's tax cut is the reason more funds are needed.

House Republican leaders, who say they do not have the votes to pass the bill on its own, want to attach the measure to a spending bill now in conference committee. Senate majority leaders oppose the move.

Gephardt said he supported the president's goal, but he tied the question of raising the debt ceiling to a broader debate on the budget.

In a letter to Hastert, Gephardt said he would support a free-standing bill calling for "an appropriate increase in the debt limit."

He also cited a Democratic proposal to require the president to submit a revised budget that would be balanced by 2007 and one that would do so without tapping into Social Security funds.

The measure, written by Reps. Dennis Moore, D-Kansas, and John Spratt, D-South Carolina, includes various budget enforcement mechanisms and would grant an immediate $150 billion increase in the debt limit.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a $450 billion increase in the debt limit.

The Bush administration wants the additional borrowing capacity by Friday, when Congress is scheduled to begin a recess for the Fourth of July holiday, to have the funds for Social Security and other payments in early July.




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