The United States Senate voted to raise the federal debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion, to $31.4 trillion, Tuesday afternoon, leaving it now to the House to finish the task and end a months-long partisan standoff and avoid an unprecedented default on the national debt.
The Senate vote was 50-49, with Democrats needing just a simple majority for passage, thanks to an unusual agreement worked out by the majority and minority leaders.
Since last summer, when a suspension of the debt limit expired and Treasury officials began warning that they would soon run short of cash to pay all the nation’s bills, Republicans started loudly insisting they would not vote to help Democrats raise the ceiling since they were being excluded from meaningful participation in any of President Joe Biden’s major spending initiatives.
Democrats complained that Republicans had just as much of a responsibility to lift the ceiling since much of the new debt was incurred under the Trump administration. But the GOP didn’t budge, reminding Democrats they had enough votes on their own, even in the 50-50 Senate where they could use the reconciliation process to get around need for 60 votes.
Days before a possible default at the end of September, Senate GOP leadership agreed to a short-term compromise that punted the issue to mid-December.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced they had reached another deal, this one creating a one-time path for Democrats to lift the debt ceiling with a simple majority while avoiding what is typically a very time-consuming process of reconciliation. Democrats did have to agree, however, to put a specific number on the debt increase, which they did on Tuesday.
Schumer thanked Republicans for their help in a speech on the floor before the vote.
"As I’ve said repeatedly, this is about paying debt accumulated by both parties, so I’m pleased Republicans and Democrats came together to facilitate a process that has made addressing the debt ceiling possible," said Schumer.
McConnell may have helped broker the deal, but he still blasted Democrats when it was his turn to speak:
"Later today, every single Democrat will vote on party lines to raise our nation’s debt limit by trillions of dollars. If they jam through another reckless taxing and spending spree, this massive debt increase will just be the beginning."
First District Congressman Kevin Hern doesn't buy the Democrats' argument that Republicans should have helped lift the debt ceiling. He said all the new debt will come from bills Republicans have had no control over.
"This is completely Democrat spending and Democrats should have to pay for it with their votes," said Hern in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
Like McConnell, Hern worries the administration's Build Back Better package will cost far more than advertised and will do more harm than good.
"I am a huge advocate of us being more fiscally responsible," Hern said. "I’ve been that way since I’ve been in Congress, and I’ll never let up until we start being better fiduciaries of all American taxpayer dollars."
The agreement is expected to settle the debt issue at least through next year's midterms and into 2023, when Congress could have a different look.