The Senate advances debt-ceiling measure that lets Democrats eventually dodge economic disaster all on their own

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) points at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as they arrive for a remembrance ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, on September 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.
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  • The Senate advanced a measure to avert default with 14 Republicans joining every Democrat.

  • It sets up a filibuster exemption allowing Democrats to raise the debt limit alone later.

  • Some Democrats viewed the episode as an opportunity to weaken a barrier to Biden's agenda.

The Senate took a crucial step to avoid a debt crisis on Thursday, less than a week before the government is expected to default.

The afternoon vote was 64-36 with 14 GOP senators joining every Democrat to approve a debt-ceiling overhaul that tees Democrats up to lift the limit with a 51-vote majority instead of the 60 typically required. The rule, which was attached to a measure to prevent Medicare spending cuts, circumvents the filibuster on a one-time bill to raise the debt ceiling. With the US expected to hit its borrowing limit on December 15, the reform's passage furthers a last-ditch effort to lift the ceiling and avert economic disaster.

It capped an odd turn for lawmakers, but it ultimately prevents a high-stakes showdown similar to one in September that pushed the US toward the edge of default. Democrats weren't able to raise the ceiling on their own because of the threat of an inevitable Republican filibuster. The overhaul approved Thursday cancels the filibuster for one-time only and lets Democrats raise the ceiling with a simple majority. Republicans will be able to say they didn't directly vote to raise the limit, and Democrats won't face opposition from a filibuster.

"This is a hard box where neither votes are wrong and neither votes are right," Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told reporters. "We're confronted with a crap sandwich, and I'd rather have a hamburger".

"I believe Mitch cut the best deal he could have, given the circumstances that in some respects some Republicans created," he later told Insider, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Other Republicans were unhappy with McConnell's bargain. "I think it was a mistake," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Insider.

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri shared similar sentiments. "I think tying together Medicare and the debt ceiling was a mistake. I don't know whose decision it was but I think it was a bad one. I think it's a cynical one."

Senators were at a stalemate over the debt ceiling only days ago. Senate Republicans called on Democrats to raise the ceiling on their own, arguing they wouldn't support a measure that paved the way for more of President Joe Biden's spending agenda. Democrats, however, noted that raising the debt ceiling has long been a bipartisan effort, and that lifting the limit only pays the bills for past spending.

The unusual move to blow a hole in the filibuster came from weeks-long negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell. The two announced their deal on Tuesday, and the House approved the overhaul Wednesday night. The measure now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature. Once passed, Democrats in the House and Senate are expected to quickly pass a measure to actually lift the ceiling.

It's unclear how much the limit will increase by. The new ceiling is expected to exceed $30 trillion and delay the next debt-ceiling battle until Jan. 16, 2022 — after the 2022 midterm elections.

The unusually complex rule will likely save the US from economic catastrophe. The debt ceiling serves as the legal limit for how much the government can borrow to pay its bills. Breaching the ceiling would put the US at serious risk of defaulting on its debt.

Some Democrats viewed the entire episode as an opportunity to further weaken the filibuster, which Republicans have used to block swaths of Biden's agenda on immigration, voting rights, and gun control.

"McConnell has just signed off on an exemption to the filibuster," Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told Insider. "If we can do it once, we can do it again."

Read the original article on Business Insider