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US House votes to suspend debt limit until May

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to suspend the US debt ceiling until May, averting a potential default crisis and buying time for high-stakes budget negotiations.

The bill, which must be approved by the Senate before being signed into law by President Barack Obama, temporarily has defused partisan tensions, as Democrats and Republicans struggle to reach a broader deal to rein in deficits and the federal debt.

The Republican-introduced measure passed 285-144, with bipartisan support.

The United States exceeded its congressionally-mandated $16 trillion borrowing limit late last month, and the Treasury has taken extraordinary measures to keep paying the government's bills through late February.

Republicans backed away from their earlier insistence that sought to tether an extension of the debt ceiling to spending cuts. That stance threatened a repeat of last summer's tense standoff and elevating the risk of a potentially catastrophic default.

A showdown in 2011 over the debt limit led to the unprecedented decision by Standard & Poor's to downgrade the once-sterling US credit rating.

Obama has said he would refuse to negotiate over the debt ceiling again, and the suspension grants divided lawmakers an extra three months to try to forge a broad agreement on boosting revenue and reining in spending.

In a bid to hasten action, House Republicans added a clause to the bill to keep senators from collecting their salaries if they don't pass a budget by April 15.

"It's been nearly four years since the Senate has done a budget. Most Americans believe, if you don't do your job, you shouldn't get paid. That's the basis for 'No Budget, No Pay'," House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday.

"It's time for us to come to a plan that will, in fact, balance the budget over the next 10 years. It's our commitment to the American people."

The bill would not eliminate lawmakers' pay, but would set the money aside in an escrow account until a budget is passed or until the last day of the 113th Congress, at the end of 2014.

If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the current debt limit would be automatically extended as necessary until midnight, May 18.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid welcomed Wednesday's vote.

"By passing this bill, Republicans are joining Democrats to say we will not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, and we will pay our bills," he said in a statement.

"To spare the middle class another knock-down, drag-out fight, the Senate will proceed to and seek to pass the House bill. We will seek an agreement with Republicans to bring the bill to the floor in the coming days."

The Democratic-held Senate has not voted on a budget since 2009, and the federal government is being funded through temporary resolutions every six months.

Lawmakers haggled for months over how to avoid the January 1, 2013 "fiscal cliff," when taxes were due to rise on all Americans and massive automatic spending cuts were to kick in, had Congress failed to act.

Marathon negotiations late last month produced only a partial settlement, with taxes rising on only the very wealthy and lawmakers delaying until March any deal on spending cuts set to hit defense and domestic programs.