Senate clears last major hurdle to raising debt ceiling

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday lifted the last major obstacle to increasing the debt ceiling , thus ending a Republican blockade an...


WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday lifted the last major obstacle to increasing the debt ceiling, thus ending a Republican blockade and almost guaranteeing that Congress will be able to act quickly in the coming days to keep the government away from a very first federal default.

In a 64-36 vote, 14 Republicans joined with every Democrat in passing legislation that would flatten and accelerate the path for Congress to increase the statutory borrowing limit by a set amount, yet to be determined. The action shattered months of politically charged 50-50 Senate bickering, where Republicans refused to let Democrats agree to any increase in the long-term debt ceiling, using filibuster to block their efforts to do so. .

The standoff came to an end this week, when Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and Minority Leader, reached a deal with the Main Democrats on a convoluted process that would raise the borrowing limit on a simple majority vote, with only Democrats backing it, rather than subjecting it to the 60-vote threshold that applies to most major legislation.

Mr McConnell was among Republicans who voted to move him forward, amid recriminations from lawmakers and his party activists who said it was treason. His passage was expected as early as Thursday evening, sending him to President Biden for his signature.

That would pave the way for a separate vote to increase the limit to $ 2.5 trillion, expected early next week. This puts Congress on the right track to avoid a budget crisis with little time to spare. The Treasury Department said it could exceed the legal debt ceiling shortly after December 15 and would no longer be able to fund government bonds.

The measure was packed with legislation it would postpone planned cuts to medicare, farm aid and other mandatory spending programs, a sweetener for reluctant Republicans who have strongly opposed giving Democrats the option of raising the debt ceiling. This would establish a quick and unique path for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling by a specific amount with a simple majority vote, thereby removing the threat of filibuster or other procedural hurdles that would allow Republicans to stop its passage.

“The country’s debt was incurred on a bipartisan basis, so I am delighted that this responsible action is being taken today to facilitate a process that avoids default,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader. He thanked Mr. McConnell for the “fruitful, frank and productive” discussions that led to the agreement.

“I am optimistic that after today’s vote we will be on the right track to avoid a catastrophic default,” added Mr Schumer.

While Democrats have not indicated by how much they will raise the borrowing cap, they are expected to try to delay another fiscal cliff until after next year’s midterm elections. A Treasury estimate suggested they would need to increase it to $ 2.5 trillion to cover that period, according to a person familiar with preliminary accounting who disclosed it on condition of anonymity.

Legislative contortions were necessary because of Republicans’ intransigence on the debt ceiling. As Democrats use the fast-track budget reconciliation process to push Mr. Biden’s $ 2.2 trillion climate, tax and social spending bill over their opposition, Republicans had demanded Democrats use the same maneuver – which protects the legislation of a filibuster – to fight the debt limit.

Democrats opposed, arguing that both sides were responsible for raising the borrowing limit to reflect spending approved and incurred under the Republican and Democratic administrations. Reconciliation, they added, would be an unnecessarily complex and time-consuming way to do it.

In October, McConnell gave in temporarily, prompting 10 of his colleagues to join him in breaking the filibuster of his own party. short-term increase in the debt ceiling, which was then passed with only Democratic votes. But he warned in a scathing letter to Mr. Biden that he wouldn’t do it again. Two Republicans who backed the measure in October, Senators Richard Shelby of Alabama and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, withheld their votes Thursday.

“They could do it through reconciliation without any Republican support,” Rounds told reporters ahead of the vote. “We bailed them out by calling the question last time to give them the opportunity to do so, and yet they seem to have just sat back and expected us to provide them with special opportunities again.”

A month later, Mr McConnell and Mr Schumer began quietly discussing alternatives, including the possibility of adding an increase in the debt limit to the annual Defense Policy Bill, the latest bill. legislation to be passed in Congress before the end of the year. .

Tuesday, Congress leaders announced the deal and the House passed the measure later in the day with all Republicans except one voting in the opposition.

Several Republicans bubbled over the deal, accusing Mr. McConnell and his allies of giving in and warning that the move would set a dangerous precedent that could erode the Senate filibuster rules that have long protected the minority party.

“It sure gets set in motion by playing with Senate rules in a way I never even thought about until 24 hours ago,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of. Caroline from the south. “I want to make it difficult, not easy, because I think what we are doing is really going to change the structure of the Senate and will certainly do a lot of damage to the Republican Party.”

But as he did in October, Mr McConnell was able to muster support from a coalition that included members of his leadership team, centrists and retired lawmakers. Republicans said as long as Democrats took responsibility for the final vote by raising the limit, they would be happy, promising to use the vote as a political stick in the midterm elections.

Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mitt Romney of Utah and Roger Wicker of Mississippi voted in favor and joined Senators who previously voted to pave the way for Democrats to increase the debt ceiling. These senators included Mr. McConnell and John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of Virginia- Occidentale and Roy Blunt of Missouri.

“We don’t need to send signals anywhere in the world that we are not going to fully support faith and credit in the United States,” Murkowski told reporters after the vote.

A few Republicans were also influenced by the decision to wrap the debt limitation process with the postponement of compulsory cuts to a range of federal spending programs, including community block grants, farm aid, and a 4% reduction in Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals. The legislation would also extend a temporary pay rise in Medicare implemented earlier in the pandemic, allowing doctors and hospitals to keep their current rates of pay until April before the cut begins to fade away.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Senate clears last major hurdle to raising debt ceiling
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