Obama Waits Before Asking for Increase in Debt Limit

Honolulu – President Obama agreed on Friday to delay a request to Congress to expand the government’s borrowing authority by $1.2 trillion, allowing lawmakers time to return from recess and register their views on it.

The delay, which a White House official said would be only a few days, will not jeopardize the operations of the government, as last summer’s impasse over the debt ceiling did. The budget agreement of Aug. 2, which broke that deadlock, has made it highly unlikely that Congressional Republicans could block an increase in the debt limit through the 2012 election. Since signing legislation to codify that agreement, Mr. Obama has already obtained two increases totaling $900 billion.

Still, House Republicans, who led the battle over the debt ceiling, are likely to seize the opportunity to condemn further borrowing and vote against the increase even if they cannot block it. By agreeing to the request for a delay from Senate and House leaders, the White House in effect is giving lawmakers the chance to weigh in without having to cut short their vacations. The delay also insulates the White House against accusations that it sought to push the increase through while Congress was away.

House Republicans said they were willing to come back early if had been necessary to vote on the debt limit increase.

“Our members want to vote on the resolution of disapproval provided in the Budget Control Act,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio. “It was our preference not to call members back early to do so, but we would have if the timing of the submission required it.”

Under the terms of the budget act, Congress has 15 days after the president submits a request for additional borrowing authority to vote on a motion to block it. If he had submitted it by the end of Friday, as expected, the 15 days would have passed before Congress was back in session. (The House is back in session on Jan. 17, the Senate the following week.)

Mr. Obama’s request of $1.2 trillion would raise the federal debt limit to $16.4 trillion, and after that the White House would not have to seek further increases before the election, officials said.

The Senate, with a Democratic majority, is all but certain not to oppose the additional borrowing authority. Even if both houses voted against the proposed increase, President Obama would veto the legislation, the White House official said, and the votes are not in place to override the veto.

“The Treasury Department expects that debt will be within $100 billion of the limit by the close of business today, and therefore, we had anticipated submitting a certification to Congress later today,” Joshua R. Earnest, the deputy press secretary, said in a statement issued in Hawaii, where Mr. Obama is on vacation this week.

“However, we have been asked by the bicameral leadership of Congress to delay certification in order to give both houses time to consider when votes may occur, given the current Congressional schedule,” he said.

The Treasury Department will be able to put into place accounting measures to keep the government from hitting the debt limit in the next few days, the White House official said. As a result, he said, there is no danger that the government’s creditworthiness will be affected.

The official declined to give details about which Congressional leaders asked for the delay, or whether the White House resisted. He portrayed the president’s agreement to delay as a sign of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.

This article, “Obama Waits Before Asking for Increase in Debt Limit,” originally appeared in The New York Times.