WASHINGTON, US – US senators raced on Thursday to pass a bipartisan debt limit deal approved overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives, with the worst-case scenario of an economy-cratering default seemingly avoided.
The Treasury has warned it could run out of money to pay its bills by Monday – leaving almost no room for delays in enacting the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which suspends the debt limit through 2024 while trimming federal spending.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday with a big majority of 314 votes to 117 – putting it on a glide path to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.
“The bill is now in the Senate, where we begin the process today of passing this legislation as soon as possible,” Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor of the upper chamber of Congress.
“The Senate will stay in session until we send the bill avoiding default to President Biden’s desk. We will keep working until the job is done. Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent default.”
But a time-consuming debate with numerous amendments being sought by senators from both parties threatened to hold up the process, dragging it deep into the weekend.
The Senate has to agree unanimously to fast-track legislation and any individual member can draw out consideration of a bill for days.
Multiple senators have indicated that they would like to offer tweaks to the debt deal although most have indicated that they don’t intend to delay the process provided voting is allowed for their proposed amendments.
Kentucky Republican Rand Paul is asking for a vote on his alternative debt ceiling proposal that imposes much stricter spending cuts while Utah’s Mike Lee tweeted that the Senate could still halt the deal in its tracks.
McCarthy got played
“Long shot? Sure. But it’s possible if Republicans continue to realize — as many now are — that McCarthy got played by (Biden),” he said.
Schumer and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell were spending the early part of Thursday trying to agree on timing for votes and ground rules for how the process will play out.
“I can tell you what I hope happens is that those who have amendments, if given votes, will yield back time so that we can finish this Thursday or Friday and soothe the country and soothe the markets,” McConnell told reporters on Wednesday.
Schumer said any successful amendment would mean sending the entire bill back to the House which would “risk default, plain and simple.”
He didn’t rule out allowing some debate on amendments but would likely insist on a 60-vote threshold for adoption, almost guaranteeing failure.
There are three declared no-votes among the 51 Democrats so far and six among the Republicans. But the leaders can afford to lose 40 votes between them and still see the measure passed.
McCarthy touted the House vote as a big conservative victory, although he fell one short of the 150 votes – two thirds of his caucus – he had promised to deliver as he looked to quell a right-wing rebellion to avoid an immediate threat to his job.
On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the House vote was being touted as a major victory for Biden, who managed to protect almost all of his domestic priorities from deep cuts threatened by Republicans.