Menu

Politics

Budget

Congress approves debt-ceiling increase, sends bill to president's desk

 

The Senate on Wednesday approved an increase in the nation's debt limit, sending the legislation to President Obama's desk as party leaders opted to avert another standoff over the government's deficit spending. 

The bill cleared the Senate on a 55-43 vote. 

The hastily called vote comes after the House, a day earlier, approved the increase, with no strings attached. The decision by Speaker John Boehner marked a retreat from Republicans' past practice of demanding concessions -- spending cuts, or other provisions -- in exchange for raising the debt limit. 

Boehner had struggled to win support from his own divided caucus for various plans, and in the end relied on mostly Democrats to approve the so-called "clean" debt-limit increase. The bill passed the House on a 221-201 vote. 

In a statement released Wednesday night, President Obama praised the vote and said he hopes Congress will focus on improving the economy.

"I'm pleased that Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together to pay for what they've already spent, and remove the threat of default from our economy once and for all," he said. "The full faith and credit of the United States is too important to use as leverage or a tool for extortion. Hopefully, this puts an end to politics by brinksmanship and allows us to move forward to do more to create good jobs and strengthen the economy."

The Senate vote on Wednesday was not without drama. On an earlier test vote requiring 60 lawmakers to proceed, Republicans initially refused to lend their support. The vote was held open for more than an hour. Finally, after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted "aye" several other Republicans switched their votes. 

Those Republicans then voted against the bill in the final tally, but it already had enough support from Democrats to pass. 

The measure would permit the Treasury Department to borrow normally for another 13 months and then reset the government's borrowing cap, currently set at $17.2 trillion, after that. 

Quick action on the debt limit bill stands in contrast to lengthy showdowns when Republicans sought to use the measure as leverage to win concessions from Obama. They succeeded in 2011, winning about $2 trillion in spending cuts, but Obama has been unwilling to negotiate over the debt limit since his re-election, and Wednesday's legislation is the third consecutive debt measure passed without White House concessions. 

Republicans have been less confrontational after October's 16-day partial government shutdown sent GOP poll numbers skidding. Republicans have instead sought to focus voters' attention on the implementation and effects of Obama's health care law. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a Tea Party favorite, forced the chamber to overcome a 60-vote filibuster threshold in order to pass the bill. 

"In my view, every Republican should stand together against raising the debt ceiling without meaningful structural reforms to rein in our out of control spending," Cruz said. 

Passage of the debt limit measure without any strings attached comes after House GOP leaders tried for weeks to find a formula to pass a version of their own that included Republican agenda items like approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and repeal of an element of the health care law. 

But a sizable faction of House Republicans refuse to vote for any increase in the government's borrowing abilities, which forced Boehner, R-Ohio, to turn to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to pass the measure on the strength of Democrats. 

The debt measure permits Treasury to borrow regularly through March 15, 2015, putting the issue off until after the November elections and setting it up for the new Congress to handle next year. If Republicans take over the Senate, they're likely to insist on linking the debt ceiling to spending cuts and other GOP agenda items, but for now at least, the issue is being handled the old fashioned way, with the party of the incumbent president being responsible for supplying the votes to pass it but with the minority party not standing in the way. 

"I think we will go back to the responsible way of making sure that our country does not default," said Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.