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Senate Votes to Raise Debt Ceiling to $12.4 Trillion

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Thursday to raise the ceiling on the government debt to $12.4 trillion, a massive increase over the current limit and a political problem that President Obama has promised to address next year.

The Senate's rare Christmas Eve vote, 60-39, follows House passage last week and raises the debt ceiling by $290 billion. The bill permits the Treasury Department to issue enough bonds to fund the government's operations and programs until mid-February. The Senate will vote again on the issue on Jan. 20.

Obama must sign the measure into law to prevent a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The government piled up a record $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 to counter a meltdown in financial markets and help bring the nation out of its worst recession in seven decades.

The early-morning vote followed the Senate's passage of a landmark bill to overhaul the nation's health care system. They were the Senate's last votes of the year.