Senate approves debt-ceiling bill in 64-34 vote

The Senate on Thursday approved legislation that prevents the U.S. from hitting its debt limit until May 19, sending the legislation to President Obama.

In a 64-34 vote, the Senate gave its blessing to a House bill that suspends the debt ceiling until May 19, when the Treasury Department will need to use “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the nation’s bills.

Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Richard Shelby (Ala.), John Thune (S.D.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) voted with the Democratic caucus to pass the legislation. Only one Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)— voted against the bill. 

Two Democrats — Sens. John Kerry (Mass.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) — missed the vote.

ADVERTISEMENT
The bill allows Treasury to borrow what ever sum is necessary to keep the U.S. from going over the debt ceiling until May 19. Unless Congress acts again, Treasury on that date will add what ever it has spent to the nation’s current $16.4 trillion ceiling.

H.R. 325, the “No Budget, No Pay” Act, also would withhold pay to the members of a chamber that do not approve a budget resolution by April 15. That language is a dig from Republicans to Senate Democrats, who haven’t approved a budget resolution since 2009.

Lawmakers could still get paid if they don’t write a budget, but not until the final day of the congressional session.

“I commend the House on one aspect of the legislation and that is the suspension of salary for members of Congress if they do not pass a budget by April 15,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said. “If this body can’t fulfill its most fundamental duty by law, then I don’t think we should get paid.”

Senate passage of the bill sends it to Obama — who has said he will sign it — and temporarily suspends the fight over the debt ceiling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hailed Republicans for agreeing to a “clean” debt limit bill that did not tie the hike to spending cuts.

“I was reassured by House Republicans’ decision last week to back off their reckless threat to hold the debt ceiling hostage. … A clean debt ceiling increase that allows the United States to meet its existing obligations should be the standard,” he said.

Yet Congress will face a slew of other decisions in coming months over spending that could have enormous effects on the economy.

Spending cuts under sequestration will be triggered in March unless Congress acts to prevent them, something that looks increasingly unlikely.

And a resolution to keep the government funded also expires in March. The government will shut down without congressional approval of a new funding mechanism.

The Senate rejected four Republican amendments prior to final passage.

The first, which would have required a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling, was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and failed in 54-44 vote that tabled the amendment.

A second amendment offered by Portman, also tabled in a 52-46 vote, would have implemented automatic continuous spending resolutions if Congress doesn’t agree on appropriation bills. But if Congress still didn’t act within 120 days of the spending bills, the amendment would have reduced government spending by 1 percent immediately and cut another 1 percent for every 90 days that followed.

An amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) requiring the Secretary of Treasury to prioritize federal spending if the debt ceiling is not raised again was tabled in a 53-45 vote.

His amendment would have guaranteed three types of payments: interest on the debt, Social Security checks and active duty service member salaries, even if the debt ceiling weren’t raised.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced an unrelated amendment that would have prohibited the transfer of F-16s, M1 tanks and other defense items to Egypt. That was rejected on a 79-19 vote to table.

The last vote before final passage was on a motion to recommit the bill, introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). His motion would have directed the Senate Finance Committee to find dollar-for-dollar spending offsets for this three-month debt ceiling suspension. It failed on a 53-45 vote — 60 votes were needed for passage.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) urged his colleagues to immediately start work on a longer-term deal in order to reduce spending and raise the debt ceiling this summer.

“The bill before us would only eliminate the prospect of federal default until sometime in the summer,” Hatch said on the Senate floor. “That means if we go through regular order, we have only a few months at best to debate, have hearings, process proposals and make decisions.”