After clearing the final major roadblock to extending the debt limit on Thursday, the Senate passed legislation that all but guarantees that Congress will be able to act fast in the coming days to save the US from experiencing its first-ever federal default.
In a rare bipartisan move, 14 Republicans joined every Democrat to essentially end their party’s months-long obstruction of debt-limit legislation, enabling the package to go forward in the 50-50 Senate. It was eventually approved by a similar majority, 59 to 35, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for ultimate approval of the law.
President Biden is likely to sign the legislation into law as soon as possible. For the first time, it would create a one-time fast-track method for Congress to raise the federal borrowing ceiling by a predetermined amount, which has yet to be defined.
A second vote to increase the debt ceiling by as much as $2.5 trillion is scheduled to take place early next week as a result of this action. It puts Congress on the right road to avert a budget disaster with just a few weeks left to spare. The Treasury Department has said that it expects to exceed the statutory debt limit by the end of December, and that the government would be unable to meet its commitments.
It took the Senate’s decision on Thursday to break through months of highly fraught squabbling in which Republicans have refused for months to allow Democrats to bring up any long-term debt limit raise, citing the filibuster as justification.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader, reached an agreement with key Democrats this week on a complicated procedure that would enable the borrowing threshold to be lifted with a simple majority vote. Thus, the bill may pass with just Democratic support rather than having to pass through the 60-vote barrier that is required for the majority of significant legislative initiatives.
Mr. McConnell was one of ten Republicans who voted both to advance and to approve the measure, prompting rebukes from politicians and activists in his own party, who saw the vote as a betrayal of the party’s values.
The proposal was paired with legislation that would postpone anticipated cutbacks to Medicare, agricultural assistance, and other mandatory spending programmes, providing a sweetener for hesitant Republicans who have resisted granting Democrats the option to increase the debt limit in order to avoid a government shutdown.
Following an agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the annual defence policy legislation earlier this week, and on the heels of the passage of a stopgap spending measure to fund the government until the middle of February, it was a critical step forward for Democrats in their efforts to complete a number of must-pass bills this month. Democrats were anxious to devote their whole attention to ramming through President Biden’s signature domestic policy package before Christmas, despite the fact that the odds for doing this were dim.
Even while Democrats have not said how much they want to raise the borrowing limit, it is believed that they would attempt to postpone a new fiscal confrontation until after the midterm elections in November next year. According to a source familiar with the early accounting who spoke on the condition of anonymity, one Treasury estimate showed that they would need to boost it by as much as $2.5 trillion in order to cover that time.
The Republicans’ refusal to budge on the debt ceiling necessitated the parliamentary wranglings that were required. Given that Democrats are using the fast-track budget reconciliation process to force through President Biden’s $2.2 trillion climate, tax, and social spending bill despite Republican opposition, Republicans had demanded that Democrats use the same manoeuvre to raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have agreed to do so.
Democratic opponents said that extending the borrowing limit to accommodate expenditure that had been authorised and spent by both Republican and Democratic administrations was the responsibility of both parties. They went on to say that reconciliation would be an unduly difficult and time-consuming method of doing this.
The Senate Majority Leader was able to rally support from a coalition that includes members of his leadership team, centrists, and departing senators, just as he did in October. Republicans indicated they would be content as long as Democrats accepted responsibility for the final vote to raise the debt ceiling, and they promised to use the vote as a political weapon in the next midterm elections if Democrats did not.
While two Republicans, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, voted to advance the legislation, they were opposed to its eventual approval. Despite the fact that two more Republicans, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, were missing for the final vote, they joined their colleagues in voting to take up the issue.