Congress clears bill to raise debt limit


The House cleared legislation early Wednesday morning to raise the debt limit through next year’s midterm elections, staving off an unprecedented federal default just in time for the deadline set by the Treasury Department.

The bill, which lawmakers passed 221-209, with one Republican voting yes, raises the federal debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion to increase the limit to close to $31 trillion.

Congressional leaders say the new level will allow the nation to continue to meet its financial obligations through 2022 and into 2023. The debt limit hike does not authorize new spending – a message Democrats sought to underscore during debate ahead of the vote amid attacks from Republicans.

“I want to be very clear: raising the debt ceiling is not about incurring new debts but rather enabling the federal government to keep its existing commitments. By raising the debt limit, we are meeting our existing obligations to members of the military, veterans and recipients of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

Meanwhile, Republicans hammered Democrats over the vote, claiming the legislation will pave the way for “reckless” spending, as their colleagues press on with plans to advance President Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

“Republicans will not support raising the debt limit while Democrats push through trillions of dollars for purely partisan political spending and thereby depleting our Treasury, not just for today, but for generations to come,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said in floor remarks.

The vote came hours after the Senate passed the bill in a party-line 50-49 vote earlier on Tuesday, ahead of the Wednesday deadline set by the Treasury Department for ensuring the U.S. doesn’t default on its debt obligations. 

The bill now heads to the White House, where President Biden is expected to sign it promptly to ensure the nation doesn’t default on its debts.

While lawmakers won’t have to deal with the debt limit again until after next year’s midterm elections, the next fight in 2023 could unfold in a divided government between Biden and one or both chambers of Congress controlled by Republicans.

Passage of the bill caps off months of fighting between Republicans and Democrats, particularly in the evenly split Senate, over how to address the nation’s borrowing limit.

Senate Republicans had vowed that they wouldn’t help Democrats take action to raise or suspend the country’s borrowing limit.

Republicans instead insisted their colleagues instead act alone on addressing the debt limit using budget reconciliation, the same complex procedure Democrats are using that will allow them to advance the president’s social spending plan in the upper chamber with a simple majority, bypassing a likely GOP filibuster.

But Democrats rejected the push and insisted that Republicans work with them in tackling the debt ceiling. They also pointed to numerous instances in the past in which both parties worked together to act on the debt limit, including during the Trump administration despite Democrats’ opposition to the 2017 tax cut law.

“The problem is Republican obstruction, and hopefully at some point, they'll wake up, grow up and be prepared to govern together,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told The Hill.

The vote on Tuesday follows a deal struck last week between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on a bipartisan path forward on the debt ceiling.

The agreement allowed for the Senate to set up a process to act on the debt ceiling with only a simple majority, affording Democrats a GOP filibuster-proof route to raising the debt limit.

McConnell has ultimately acted twice in recent months to avert a debt default, after initially insisting that Democrats should find a way to do it without GOP help.

In October, McConnell and 10 other Republicans agreed to a short-term debt limit extension lasting into this month. McConnell went on to warn Biden at the time that he “will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.”

But ahead of the latest deadline, McConnell and Schumer quietly negotiated for weeks to find a compromise so that Republicans wouldn't have to directly vote for a debt limit increase while Democrats could secure an expedited process to do it on their own.

Congressional leaders agreed to attach the debt limit process deal to a bill that averted automatic cuts faced by physicians and other medical providers under Medicare.

The debt limit process bill itself was still subject to a GOP filibuster, however. Fourteen Senate Republicans, including McConnell, helped advance the deal he negotiated last week.

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