Senate clears debt limit measure, avoiding default

The must-pass legislation, to allow the US to borrow money to pay its bills, awaits the president's signature

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks at a news conference with, from left, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

The U.S. Congress approved legislation Wednesday to rasie the federal borrowing authority for a year, bowing to President Barack Obama's demands for a debt-limit increase without any conditions in order to avoid a default.

The House of Representatives — where Republicans hold a majority — passed the measure in a close vote a day earlier, after Republicans abandoned the confrontational tactics they had used in similar votes over recent years.

Political wranglings over the budget and debt ceiling in October caused a 16-day government shutdown and almost pushed the nation into catastrophic default.

But final action in the Senate came only after an hour-long nail-biting procedural vote forced by the objections of Republican Ted Cruz, a conservative Tea Party favorite, in which it appeared at first there would not be enough Republicans to join the Democratic majority and advance the bill to raise the debt ceiling.

A decision by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, who are both up for re-election this year, to vote to advance the measure appeared to kick the procedural tally over the needed 60 votes.

After a few more tense minutes of huddling on the Senate floor, several other Republicans changed their votes to follow their leadership. In the end, 12 Republicans joined Democrats in helping the bill across the procedural hurdle on a vote of 67-31.

The measure, which then passed the Senate on a final, party-line vote of 55-43, now goes to Obama to be signed into law. The advance of this measure this week has brought relief to financial markets.

Investors were becoming increasingly jittery ahead of Feb. 27, when the U.S. Treasury expects to exhaust existing borrowing capacity, putting federal payments at risk and risking another government shutdown.

Without an increase in the statutory debt limit, the U.S. government would soon default on some of its obligations and have to shut down some programs, a historic move that would have likely caused severe market turmoil.

Raising the limit on how much money the U.S. government can borrow was once an uncontroversial process that Congress carried out dozens of times since the 1960s.

Over recent years, it has become politicized with Republicans using it as a bargaining chip to force compromises from Obama on spending and revenue policies. 

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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