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Republican bills try to force payment of debt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Republicans introduced legislation on Wednesday to mandate that the government pay the interest on its debt if the nation reaches the $14.3 trillion ceiling -- before allowing other federal spending.

It is the latest bid by conservative Republicans to fulfill demands from their Tea Party faction to rein in government spending to tackle the budget deficit, now forecast to near $1.5 trillion this year.

"We must keep good on our obligation to pay off our debt, protect taxpayers, grow our economy, and stop the out-of-control spending that got us here in the first place," Representative David Schweikert, a Republican co-sponsor of the effort, said.

Schweikert was elected in the 2010 congressional elections in which a slew of conservative Republicans helped the party win majority control of the House of Representatives.

The measure could gain traction in the House, but will face a steeper hurdle in the Senate, where Democrats are still in charge.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey has introduced similar legislation in that chamber.

The Obama administration says the debt limit could be reached as early as March 31 and as late as mid-May. Officials say there are disastrous consequences if the U.S. pushes past the amount of debt it is legally allowed to borrow.

Moderate Democrat Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, criticized the bill.

"It is a dreadful idea," Conrad said. "Basically what the Republicans are saying is pay China first; we're going to forget about the American public and the things that they need. Somehow they are secondary?"

(Reporting by Kim Dixon and Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Leslie Adler)