WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional approval of a $450 billion boost in federal borrowing authority spared the government from choosing between defaulting on the national debt and using "shaky ... or potentially fraudulent accounting devices," Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Friday.
He made the comment to reporters a day after Congress increased the borrowing limit.
The $450 billion increase will provide enough money for the government to pay its bills until at least December, O'Neill said. That means Congress will not have to face the borrowing question again until after the November elections that will determine which party controls the Senate and House.
Democrats say congressional approval of the increase underlines how the tax cut President Bush engineered last year forced the government back into the red.
Republicans counter that though they didn't like muscling the debt limit increase through the House on Thursday, doing so let them thwart Democrats who had offered to support the effort -- in exchange for higher federal spending.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush was eager to sign the legislation. The White House was working with congressional leaders to get the bill on the president's desk Friday, so that he could sign it the same day.
Praising the congressional action, O'Neill said Treasury would not have wanted to put itself in a position of "being accused of following the horrendous accounting" practices of some major corporations that have come to the surface in recent months. The federal government must set the standard for integrity when it comes to accounting practices, he said.
The House voted 215-214 to increase the current $5.95 trillion debt ceiling, the first federal borrowing increase Congress has granted in five years.
The Democratic-controlled Senate had approved the measure by a bipartisan 68-29 margin on June 11. Bush is certain to sign it.
Just three Democrats and six Republicans crossed party lines, highlighting the House's partisan rift over the issue.
No one doubted that Congress would eventually raise the debt limit. But for months, Republican leaders lacked the votes to push it through the House, where they have a slim majority.
Many GOP lawmakers worried that their opponents in the November's elections would accuse them of forcing federal borrowing to pay for last year's tax cut. Democrats used Thursday's House debate to do just that.
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