The House passed legislation late Tuesday that will pave the way for Democrats to unilaterally raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The measure authorizes fast-track consideration of a debt ceiling increase bill and will allow it to pass the Senate later this month with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60 votes.
The House passed the bill following weeks of negotiations in the Senate, where Republicans have refused to support a long-term increase in the debt limit.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he agreed to the deal because it will not require any GOP lawmakers to vote to pass a debt limit increase.
But the measure passed by the House on Tuesday will require at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to overcome one procedural hurdle.
“I think this is in the best interest of the country by avoiding default,” McConnell said.
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has warned Congress that the federal government would run out of money to make payments by Dec. 15 unless lawmakers acted to raise the debt ceiling.
Republicans had refused to support anything beyond a short-term debt limit increase, arguing reckless spending by Democrats was forcing the nation into more debt.
The nation’s debt now tops $27 trillion, and the next long-term extension is expected to add approximately $2 trillion. Democrats are simultaneously working to pass President Joe Biden’s $2.4 trillion Build Back Better bill.
In a memo to fellow Democrats on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to dispel the GOP argument that the next round of borrowing is needed to pay for spending by Biden and Democrats. Pelosi said only 3% of the current debt was incurred during Biden's presidency.
“As much as my colleagues across the aisle may claim, this is not about new spending,” Rep. Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat, said during debate on the bill. “Increasing the debt ceiling will prevent us from defaulting on debt we already owe. A default would spell disaster.”
Leaders in both parties were eager to avoid the risk of an economically damaging default, but McConnell faced immediate opposition from most of his rank and file, who say they won’t be among the 10 Republicans who will be needed to pass the first procedural hurdle when the measure reaches the Senate.
McConnell defended the deal, telling reporters the accord is “consistent with Republican views of raising the debt ceiling for this amount at this particular time and allows the Democrats to proudly own it, which they're happy to do.”
Democrats have yet to craft the debt ceiling legislation, but it is expected to extend borrowing past the November 2022 midterm elections.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday he is pleased with the deal.
“We always said we wanted a process that was simple — not risky, not convoluted — and didn't put us through lots of different votes,” the New York Democrat said. “And Democrats were always willing to carry the burden. That's what's going to happen.”
The House attached the fast-track measure to a bill that would stave off impending cuts to the Medicare reimbursement rate for healthcare providers.
House Republicans opposed the bill because it included the language facilitating a debt limit increase. House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, argued Democrats used the Medicare reimbursement legislation, which ensures patient access to doctors, “as leverage to increase the national debt on our children and grandchildren.”