The U.S. Senate could vote as soon as Thursday on a measure to suspend the government’s borrowing limit until early 2025 to avert a first-ever default when the United States in four days runs out of cash to pay its bills.
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted Wednesday night, with wide support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, to allow the government to continue to borrow more money over the next year-and-a-half to meet its financial obligations, exceeding the current $31.4 trillion debt limit.
The legislation does not set a new monetary cap, but the borrowing authority would extend to January 2, 2025, two months past next year’s presidential election.
In addition, the legislation calls for maintaining most federal spending at the current level in the fiscal year starting in October, with a 1% increase in the following 12 months.
“The responsible thing for America is to pass it,” one Senate leader, Democrat Dick Durbin, told reporters. Durbin said he expects the bill to be approved Thursday night or Friday.
Both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, support suspension of the debt limit and are calling for swift passage of the legislation so it can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Schumer told the Senate, “Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent default. There is no good reason — none — to bring this process down to the wire. ... I hope we see nothing even approaching brinksmanship. The country cannot afford that now.”
The timetable for a Senate vote was uncertain, with a handful of senators calling for votes on changes they want to make to the House-passed legislation. If the Senate approves any of their amendments, the legislation would have to be sent back to the House for another vote.
“Any change to this bill that forces us to send it back to the House would be entirely unacceptable,” Schumer said. “It would almost guarantee default.”
The House approved the legislation on a 314-117 vote despite objections by far-right Republican lawmakers who said it did not go far enough to cut spending and from Democratic progressives who said it trimmed too much.
Seventy-one lawmakers from the majority Republican party in the House voted against the bill, as did 46 Democrats.
In a statement following Wednesday’s vote, Biden celebrated the agreement as a “bipartisan compromise.”
“It protects key priorities and accomplishments from the past two years, including historic investments that are creating good jobs across the country,” Biden said. “And, it honors my commitment to safeguard Americans’ health care and protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid [pensions and health care insurance for older Americans and welfare payments for impoverished people]. It protects critical programs that millions of hardworking families, students, and veterans count on.”
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who negotiated the deal with Biden, told reporters that getting the bill passed “wasn’t an easy fight.” He emphasized the budget savings and criticized Democrats who wanted to separate the debate about future government spending from the need to suspend the debt limit so current financial obligations could be met.
“We put the citizens of America first and we didn’t do it by taking the easy way,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t do it by the ways that people did in the past by just lifting [the debt ceiling]. We decided you had to spend less and we achieved that goal.”
McCarthy said he intends to follow Wednesday’s action with more efforts to cut federal spending.
The measure does not raise taxes, nor will it stop the national debt total from continuing to increase, perhaps by another $3 trillion or more over the next year-and-a-half until the next expiration of the debt limit.
Other pieces of the legislation include a reduction in the number of new agents hired by the country's tax collection agency, a requirement that states return $30 billion in unspent coronavirus pandemic assistance to the federal government and extending from 50 to 54 the upper age bracket for those required to work in order to receive food aid.