WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate moved forward on Thursday with legislation that would create a one-time and swift process to raise the debt limit, overcome a Republican obstruction and possibly avert another last-minute rush to avert a devastating federal default.
The bill fits the two goals Republican leader Mitch McConnell set for himself months ago for the politically difficult vote to increase the country’s borrowing power: Democrats will likely have to adopt the increase themselves. of the debt ceiling, without the support of the GOP, and they will have to increase it by a certain amount.
McConnell was able to provide enough Republican votes to move the bill forward on Thursday when 14 Republicans sided with the Democrats in shutting down debate. It was the most precarious and unpredictable vote of the process. That support largely held up with the vote on the final adoption of the measure later in the evening. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden’s office for his signature.
Now that that has been cleared, Democrats can use their majority to pass the debt ceiling increase itself – likely next week – without having to worry about winning the 60 votes needed to overcome an obstruction.
“This is the responsible way forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “No mess, no default on debt, no risk of another recession.”
Still, it was no easy task for McConnell. Republicans have complained privately and in the Senate about the deal. If they will not have to vote for increasing the debt ceiling, they must have made it easier to get the Senate’s final vote.
“A deal was made to give us – some of us see it that way anyway – a choice between voting for a heart attack or cancer,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., Who voted against advancing the plan.
But some Republicans have said the United States shouldn’t send signals to the rest of the world questioning its creditworthiness.
“It was the right thing to do because the last thing in the world this country needs is a fault,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
The bill establishes a single, fast-track process for the Senate to pass an increase in the debt ceiling by a specific amount by simple majority. It has been combined with unrelated health insurance legislation that will prevent reductions in payment to doctors and other health care providers.
Key to the deal is that Democrats will have to vote on a specific amount by which the debt ceiling will be lifted. The amount has not yet been disclosed, but it is certainly a staggering sum. Republicans want to try and blame Democrats for the country’s growing indebtedness and tie it to Biden’s roughly $ 2 trillion social and environmental bill.
But that argument ignores the fact that the debt ceiling will have to be increased in the days or weeks to come, even though the big spending program is still being validated in Congress. The increase is needed to meet financial obligations incurred during many presidential administrations and congressional sessions – decades of deficit-financed spending, already approved, that stretch years into the future.
This was also the case when Congress approved a $ 480 billion increase in the country’s debt limit in October, which was enough for the Treasury Department to fund government operations until December 15, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Failure to suspend or lift the debt ceiling would lead to an unprecedented default that would allow the government to pay its bills only with the cash flowing into the treasury. The credit rating of the United States would likely be downgraded, interest rates on loans would skyrocket, and a recession would likely ensue. In addition, payments to seniors, veterans and others could be delayed or even interrupted.