Senate Races To Pass Debt Deal

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Senate leaders scrambled Thursday to thwart efforts to delay a bill to lift the debt ceiling and get a bipartisan deal to President Biden’s desk and avert a catastrophic default.

A day after the Republican-controlled House passed the bill in a 314-117 vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said that the chamber would remain in session until it approved the package and urged his colleagues not to make changes to the legislation, which would send it back to the House with a June 5 deadline looming.

“Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent default,” Schumer said during floor remarks. “There is no good reason, none, to bring this process down to the wire.”

Despite criticism from liberals and conservatives alike, members of both parties expect sufficient support in the Senate to pass the legislation. Multiple lawmakers said a vote on the bill could come as early as Thursday night, but the timeline for Senate action remains unclear amid opposition from both sides.

Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell tried to quell those concerns on Thursday, working behind the scenes to dissuade opponents from erecting procedural barriers that would delay passage of the bill. Some have vowed to propose amendments in exchange for allowing the legislation to pass quickly.

Senate critics have expressed various reservations. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced an amendment Thursday that would cut total federal spending by 5% a year in exchange for allowing the deal to move more quickly through the Senate, while Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said he will seek an amendment to renegotiate military funding levels. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia filed an amendment to strip out a provision to expedite federal permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial natural-gas pipeline between West Virginia and Virginia that has been repeatedly stalled on environmental concerns.

Read more: Here’s What’s in the Debt Ceiling Bill.

By midday Thursday, another obstacle seemed to emerge as a group of Senate Republicans demanded a commitment from Schumer to pass a supplemental defense spending bill later this year, as well as pledge to take up all 12 annual appropriations bills as a condition for moving forward quickly. (Congress has not passed all 12 appropriations bills in time since 1996).

Under the current framework, the deal boosts spending for the military next year by about 3%, raising the cap to $886 billion. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, called the bill’s military spending provisions “woefully inadequate” on Thursday. The debt-limit bill would also slash spending on defense and nondefense by 1% if Congress fails to pass the annual spending bills by the end of the calendar year, irking some Republicans who fear Democrats could use it as leverage in future negotiations.

“Bottom line, folks—we’re not leaving until we get a path to fix this problem,” Graham said Thursday.

It’s not uncommon for senators to propose changes to contentious bills when they reach the chamber, but any amendments at this stage would require that it be sent back to the House, potentially delaying final passage as the deadline for default looms.

Democrats control the Senate by a 51-49 margin, meaning at least nine Republican votes are needed to clear the 60-vote threshold to surmount a possible filibuster.

Read More: House Passes Debt Ceiling Bill, Setting Up Crucial Senate Vote.

The compromise pact between Biden and House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy was sealed late Saturday after months of acrimonious debate. In exchange for suspending the debt ceiling until 2025, the legislation would impose stricter work requirements for food stamps, claw back some funding for Internal Revenue Service (IRS) enforcement and unspent COVID-19 relief money, accelerate the permitting of new energy projects, and officially end the Biden Administration’s student loan repayment freeze.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the plan would save $1.5 trillion over 10 years—far less than the $4.8 trillion in savings that House Republicans approved in their budget blueprint in April, as well as the $3 trillion in deficit cuts that Biden aimed for in his budget proposal.

“This budget agreement is a bipartisan compromise. Neither side got everything it wanted,” Biden said. “I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties. This agreement meets that test.”

The last time the U.S. government came this close to default was in 2011. That standoff, resolved by a last-minute deal, sent shockwaves through financial markets, led to the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating, and pushed up the nation’s borrowing costs.

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