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Measure to increase U.S. debt limit could hit House floor soon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives could attempt to pass legislation this month raising the amount the federal government is allowed to borrow, before Speaker John Boehner retires, an aide to Boehner said on Wednesday.

“The speaker has made it clear that he wants to solve some outstanding issues before he leaves. No decisions have been made, but a resolution on the debt ceiling is certainly possible,” said the aide, who asked not to be identified.

Boehner announced in September that he planned to retire from Congress on Oct. 30. But he could stay on longer as House Republicans are deeply divided over who to nominate as his replacement.

The Treasury Department has told Congress the government will need to increase its statutory borrowing limit by Nov. 5 or risk defaulting on some debt.

A new estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said that if the debt ceiling remained unchanged, the government would run out of cash earlier than it had previously forecast.

“Treasury will begin running a very low cash balance in early November and the extraordinary measures will be exhausted and the cash balance entirely depleted sometime during the first half of November,” the CBO said in its estimate on Wednesday.

In August, the CBO projected the government would exhaust its borrowing authority sometime between mid-November and early December.

Raising the debt limit is a controversial issue for conservative Republicans in Congress. They want to extract deep reductions in domestic spending over the long-term before allowing an increase in government borrowing.

House conservatives have tussled with Boehner throughout his nearly five years as speaker and are playing a central role in the selection of a replacement for Boehner.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the leading candidate, dropped out last week saying he concluded he was not the person who could unite the Republican rank-and-file.

Since then, no new candidate has emerged. At the same time, Boehner wants to put some contentious issues to rest, such as the debt limit, before leaving the top post in the House so that the next speaker is not immediately caught up in bitter intra-party battles.

Details were not available yet on how much of a debt limit increase could be presented in the House.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not comment on his intentions for moving a debt limit bill if the House were to act.

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