Senate passes debt ceiling bill, sending it to Biden to become law and avert disaster

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday night to pass a bill that would extend the debt ceiling for two years and establish a two-year budget deal on a broad, bipartisan vote.

The vote was 63-36.

Having already cleared the House on Wednesday, it now falls to President Joe Biden, who should sign it and avoid an economically catastrophic default with days to spare before Monday’s deadline.

The deal was brokered by Biden, a Democrat, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, after a long stalemate and a few weeks of frantic negotiations as the United States edged closer to the cliff. Biden will address the nation on the bill at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.

“America can breathe a sigh of relief. Because in this process, we are avoiding default,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “The consequences of a default would be catastrophic.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., defended the bill as “an urgent and important step in the right direction – for the health of our economy and the future of our country.”

The final Senate vote came after consideration of 11 amendments – a request from various senators in exchange for an agreement to vote quickly on the bill; all amendments were rejected. The deal allowed the Senate to skip a series of hurdles that could have, without unanimous consent, pushed the United States past the debt ceiling deadline on Monday. The senators also wanted to leave town for a long weekend, speeding up procedural talks.

The extension of the debt ceiling does not authorize new expenditure; it allows the United States to pay off existing debts that both sides have accrued over many years by demanding higher spending on national and military programs, as well as lower taxes.

Once signed into law, the bill will cap spending for the next two years with a modest reduction in non-military spending and a modest increase in defense spending. It includes conservative measures to recover about $28 billion in unspent Covid relief funds, eliminate $1.4 billion in IRS funding and overhaul the energy project permitting process.

The bill will restart federal student loan repayments after a long “pause” that began at the start of the pandemic. And it would impose work requirements on people under 55 to get benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF; currently, work requirements are in place for beneficiaries under the age of 50. The SNAP and TANF changes include exclusions for veterans, homeless people and adults up to age 24 who are not in foster care.

The Biden-McCarthy deal would make no changes to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Schumer celebrated the bill as a Democratic victory Thursday night, noting that more Democrats backed the bill than Republicans in both houses.

“I thank my colleagues for the good work tonight,” Schumer said. “I commend President Biden and his team for producing a sensible compromise under the most difficult of circumstances. So many of the destructive provisions of the Republican bill are gone.”

McConnell praised McCarthy in a statement for acting first and passing a bill that “avoids the catastrophic consequences of default and begins to rein in Washington Democrats’ reliance on reckless spending that increases our nation’s debt.”

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