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Senate approves House-passed debt limit bill, sending it to Biden’s desk

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The Senate has passed the bipartisan debt deal, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk days before the default deadline and capping off months of melodrama.

In a series of last-minute developments, the upper chamber witnessed some unexpected turns. Defense hawks insisted on a written commitment from Senate leaders to not obstruct supplemental defense funding and the consideration of appropriations bills. Other senators demanded a total of 11 amendment votes, all of which failed, leading to more than three hours of floor time before the chamber could proceed to final passage.

Nonetheless, the upper chamber successfully passed the legislation with a vote of 63-36, approximately 24 hours after the bill had cleared the House with a vote of 314-117. This demonstrated a significant level of bipartisan support in both chambers. The only senator absent from the late Thursday night vote was Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who attributed his absence to his son’s graduation ceremony.

Prior to the House vote, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the White House engaged in weeks of negotiations on the bill. The agreement included raising the debt ceiling through 2024 and implementing spending cuts, a condition that Republicans had stipulated for increasing the nation’s borrowing limit. Senate leaders mostly remained on the sidelines during the discussions, allowing McCarthy to take the lead for Republicans in negotiations with the White House.

“It took a lot of work and a lot of positioning,” commented Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in an interview. “I have to give President Biden and particularly his negotiators credit, nothing but the highest praise for them. And I think at this point, we feel that the final product was as good as we could hope for.”

Although amendments were allowed, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer emphasized that any changes to the bill would necessitate sending it back to the House, risking a default by the nation. None of the amendments had a realistic chance of passing, but they provided an outlet for frustrated senators to express their concerns and offered some semblance of political cover.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just conservatives who demanded amendment votes. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was infuriated by a provision in the bill regarding the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would pass through his state. Kaine’s amendment received a vote, but ultimately failed, and he ultimately supported the final passage of the legislation.

The legislation itself would extend the debt ceiling until January 1, 2025, introduce certain work requirements for federal safety net programs, establish two years of budget caps, and rescind some IRS funding from Democrats’ partisan legislation from the previous year.

The budget caps on defense, which would limit national defense spending to the administration’s proposed $886 billion for fiscal year 2024, angered Senate defense hawks, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). They demanded written assurances from Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell regarding a plan to include a standalone supplemental bill for defense funding.

Both party leaders delivered the requested statement before the voting commenced. Schumer clarified on the Senate floor that he had negotiated with Republicans to ensure that the bill would not impede efforts to pass emergency aid packages for Ukraine and address other urgent needs.

“The Republicans came to us — the Republican senators were not happy with the caps that the Republican House members had agreed to. And so they came to us and said, ‘Well, what about if we need money for Ukraine? What if we need money for these things? The caps may be too low,'” explained Schumer in a press conference after the vote.

He further added, “So McConnell and I put out a joint statement that we would look at finding ways to fund things that were really needed through emergency and other ways, but also through the regular appropriations process, which was always going to go forward. So that’s what it basically said. And when they came to me and asked me to do this, I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.'”

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