The Senate narrowly passed a bill to suspend the debt ceiling on Thursday night, sending the legislation to Joe Biden’s desk and averting a federal default that could have wreaked havoc on the US economy and global markets.
The final vote was 63 to 36, with 46 Democrats and 17 Republicans supporting the bill while five Democrats and 31 Republicans opposed the legislation. Sixty votes were needed to pass the bill.
“Tonight’s vote is a good outcome because Democrats did a very good job taking the worst parts of the Republican plan off the table,” the Senate majority leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, said after the vote. “And that’s why Dems voted overwhelmingly for this bill, while Republicans certainly in the Senate did not.”
Biden applauded the Senate’s accomplishment and promised to sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk, with just days to go before the 5 June default deadline.
“Tonight, senators from both parties voted to protect the hard-earned economic progress we have made and prevent a first-ever default by the United States,” Biden said in a statement. “Our work is far from finished, but this agreement is a critical step forward, and a reminder of what’s possible when we act in the best interests of our country.”
The Senate vote came one day after the House passed the debt ceiling bill in a resounding, bipartisan vote of 314 to 117. The bill – which was negotiated between Biden and the Republican House speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California – will suspend the government’s borrowing limit until January 2025, ensuring the issue will not resurface before the next presidential election.
The final Senate vote on the bill capped off a long day in the upper chamber, where lawmakers spent hours considering amendments to the legislation. All 11 of the proposed amendments failed to gain enough support to be added to the underlying bill.
Several of the amendments were introduced by Senate Republicans who expressed concern that the debt ceiling bill passed by the House did too little to rein in government spending.
As part of the negotiations over the bill, McCarthy successfully pushed for modest government spending cuts and changes to the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Programs. Those changes were deemed insufficient by 31 Republican senators, who echoed the criticism voiced by the 71 House Republicans who opposed the bill a day earlier.
“It doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t do the basic things that it purports to do,” Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, told Fox News on Thursday morning. “In case after case, the cuts that it proposes won’t materialize.”
The Senate minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, supported the bill, even as he acknowledged that lawmakers must take further action to tackle the federal government’s debt of more than $31tn.
“The Fiscal Responsibility Act avoids the catastrophic consequences of a default on our nation’s debt,” McConnell said on the floor on Thursday morning. “The deal the House passed last night is a promising step toward fiscal sanity. But make no mistake: there is much more work to be done. The fight to reel in wasteful government spending is far from over.”
As some of their colleagues lamented the state of America’s debt, defense hawks in the Senate Republican conference warned that the legislation does not sufficiently fund the Pentagon, leaving the US military vulnerable in the face of foreign threats.
Schumer and McConnell attempted to allay those concerns by entering a statement into the record reaffirming that America stands ready to “respond to ongoing and growing national security threats”.
“This debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries,” the joint statement read. “The Senate is not about to ignore our national needs, nor abandon our friends and allies who face urgent threats from America’s most dangerous adversaries.”
The Senate leaders released a second statement aimed at reassuring colleagues who expressed alarm over a provision stipulating that an across-the-board spending cut will be enacted if Congress does not pass all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2024. The measure was designed to incentivize Congress members to pass a full budget, which has proven to be a difficult task in recent years, but lawmakers fear the policy will lead to more spending cuts.
“We share the concern of many of our colleagues about the potential impact of sequestration and we will work in a bipartisan, collaborative way to avoid this outcome,” Schumer and McConnell said. “The leaders look forward to bills being reported out of committee with strong bipartisan support.”
Senate Democrats also lobbied against certain provisions in the bill, namely the expedited approval of the controversial Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat of Virginia, introduced an amendment to remove the pipeline provision from the underlying debt ceiling bill, but that measure failed alongside the 10 other proposed amendments.
Despite their personal concerns about the details of the bill, most Senate Democrats, including Kaine, supported the legislation to get it to Biden’s desk and avoid a devastating default that economists warned could result in millions of lost jobs. With the immediate crisis averted, Democrats reiterated their demands to eliminate the debt ceiling and remove any future threat of default.
“The fact remains that the House majority never should have put us at risk of a disastrous, self-inflicted default in the first place,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat. “We should prevent the debt ceiling from being used as a political hostage and stop allowing our country to be taken up to the edge of default.”