Senate passes bill to avoid filibuster on debt ceiling hike

The Senate on Thursday voted to approve a one-time exemption to the filibuster on raising the debt ceiling, capping off a months-long fight over the nation’s borrowing limit. 

Senators voted 59-35 on the legislation, which also prevents cuts to Medicare. Ten GOP senators voted with Democrats to pass the legislation. GOP Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Roger Wicker (Miss.), who helped advance the bill earlier, voted against it on Thursday night.

The bill cleared the House earlier this week and now goes to President Biden’s desk.

Once he signs it, Democrats will be able to bring up and pass a debt ceiling increase with only a simple majority, instead of the normal 60 votes needed for most legislation. 

“This is the responsible path forward. No brinkmanship, no default on the debt, no risk of another recession. We still have a few more steps to take before we completely resolve this matter, but I’m optimistic that after today’s vote we’ll be on a glide path to avoid a catastrophic default,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday. 

Democrats haven’t yet said how much they will increase the nation’s borrowing limit, but they will need to specify a number in the debt ceiling bill. 

Democrats are expected to pass the debt ceiling bill before Dec. 15, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told Congress they need to act in order to keep the government solvent. 

Under the agreement struck by Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and passed on Thursday, the Senate will need to have up to 10 hours of debate before they can pass legislation to increase the debt ceiling. 

Democrats will need to pass the debt ceiling hike on their own, with no Republicans expected to support the legislation next week. 

The vote will take a massive item off the end-of-year to do list. Congress funded the government last week and still needs to pass a sweeping defense policy bill. Democrats also want to pass Biden’s climate and social spending bill by Christmas, though they are still deep in talks with each other and the Senate parliamentarian. 

But Thursday’s vote largely brings the debt ceiling drama to an end. 

Congress initially passed a short-term debt ceiling hike in early October after a months-long, bitter fight between McConnell and Schumer. And McConnell vowed in a letter to Biden sent a day after the October vote that “I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.”

But the two took a markedly different tone heading into the December debt ceiling fight. 

Sources told The Hill shortly before Thanksgiving that the two leaders were holding talks and they soon held a rare in-person meeting in Schumer’s office.

Schumer and McConnell kept a tight lid on their negotiations, with even close McConnell allies and members of his leadership team telling The Hill that they had little insight into the talks

The talks weren’t without hiccups. An initial trial balloon floated to tie the debt ceiling increase to a sweeping defense bill quickly hit steep headwinds with House leadership and Senate Republicans batting it down. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) left a meeting with McConnell and told reporters that he didn’t think that the idea would pass muster. 

And McConnell faced pushback from former President Trump — who blasted him saying the “old crow,” his preferred nickname for the GOP leader, “is a disaster.” 

Conservatives in his caucus pushed back privately during back-to-back closed-door lunches and publicly, arguing that the deal was lose-lose for Republicans because they were either at risk of being seen as helping Democrats on the debt ceiling or, if they vote, opening themselves up to attacks accusing them of supporting cuts to Medicare. 

“I think it was a mistake,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said of the agreement between Schumer and McConnell. 

But in the end, McConnell was able to get a slight uptick in GOP support for the deal compared to the October vote. Fourteen GOP senators helped advance the debt limit deal earlier Thursday compared to 11 in October. 

GOP Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), along with Ernst and Wicker, each helped advance the bill earlier Thursday after voting no in October. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) also voted yes on the procedural hurdle after missing October’s vote. 

“I don’t like the position that we’re in. I don’t like the deal that’s been done. But that’s the only deal we have in front of us,” Romney said. “We have to raise the debt limit and I don’t want to cut Medicare.” 

Tags Charles Schumer debt ceiling Debt limit Donald Trump Filibuster Janet Yellen Joe Biden Joni Ernst Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Richard Burr Roger Wicker Ted Cruz Thom Tillis
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