On Thursday, the Senate voted in favor of passing a bipartisan measure aimed at increasing the borrowing limit of the nation and placing a cap on future expenditures. The legislation will now be sent to President Biden for his approval, as the United States faces the imminent risk of defaulting on its debt in a matter of days.
Referred to as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the bill received overwhelming support in the Senate, with a vote count of 63 in favor and 36 against. Just a day prior, it had been passed by the House of Representatives with greater support from Democrats than Republicans.
This successful passage of the bill brings an end to a lengthy standoff between Capitol Hill and the White House, which had posed a significant threat of pushing the nation into default.
Before the final passage of the bill, the Senate rejected all 11 amendments proposed by senators in a series of consecutive votes.
Amendments such as Senator Roger Marshall’s proposal to resume construction of the border wall and increase the number of Border Patrol agents at the southern border, as well as Senator Tim Kaine’s attempt to revoke approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, a 300-mile gas pipeline spanning from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia, failed to be incorporated into the bill before its approval.
Marshall’s amendment was defeated by a vote count of 46 to 51, while Kaine’s proposal was rejected by a significant margin of 30 to 69.
Each amendment, along with the final bill itself, required a minimum of 60 votes to pass. If any amendment had been approved, the bill would have had to return to the House for further voting, resulting in a significant waste of time with the looming default deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a warning that any changes made to the bill would “almost guarantee default.”
This legislation, agreed upon between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, successfully averts a potentially catastrophic default on the United States’ debt obligations, which was anticipated to occur on June 5. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen confirmed that the default can be prevented as long as Biden signs the bill by the expected deadline of Monday.
In addition to the amendment votes, Republicans demanded Schumer’s commitment to address all 12 appropriations bills this year in order to prevent across-the-board spending cuts, as specified in the legislation. Republicans also sought assurances from Schumer regarding the introduction of legislation to increase defense spending and provide assistance to Ukraine against Russian incursions.
At the start of Thursday’s session, Schumer urged swift passage of the bill, which aims to raise the federal debt ceiling to $31.4 trillion while limiting non-defense discretionary spending to a 1% annual growth rate. The bill also aims to reclaim unspent COVID-19 relief funds amounting to billions of dollars and establish work requirements for food benefit programs. Furthermore, it seeks to reduce federal spending by $136 billion, with at least $1.4 billion of that reduction coming from the Internal Revenue Service, which is considerably less than the $72 billion cut approved by Republicans in a previous bill to impede the hiring of an additional 87,000 IRS agents under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.
Schumer emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent default. June 5 is less than four days away,” and pledged that the Senate would remain in session until the bill is successfully passed.
Amidst the amendment votes, Schumer read a statement on the Senate floor, jointly negotiated with Republicans, asserting that the debt ceiling bill would not hinder efforts to pass emergency aid packages for Ukraine or respond to national security threats, including those posed by China.
House Speaker McCarthy celebrated the agreement reached with President Biden and the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, where it received a vote count of 314 in favor and 117 against. McCarthy referred to the measure as the “largest cut in American history,” amounting to $2.1 trillion. He highlighted the implementation of a cap on government growth, the inclusion of work requirements for welfare, the retrieval of COVID-19 funds, and significant reforms to the environmental review process, aimed at reducing the time it takes to build infrastructure projects.
McCarthy dismissed concerns raised by GOP members regarding the legislation, stating, “Everyone has their own opinion… Some people wanted more defense spending. Some people wanted more cuts… I believe we have found the ideal solution. I simply did not want to be remembered in history as someone who voted against the largest cut in American history.”