The Senate took its first procedural step on Thursday to advance a stand-alone bill that would lift the statutory limit on federal borrowing until December 2022, even though it is all but guaranteed to fail amid a Republican filibuster.
Senate Democrats pushed forward with a party-line 50-to-43 vote on the legislation, which cleared the House on Wednesday. A day earlier, the Treasury Department warned that it would hit the limit by Oct. 18 and inaction would risk a first-ever default on the federal debt.
Congress raises the debt limit to cover spending it has already approved, and failure to address that ceiling could force the Treasury Department to default on its loans and struggle to pay Social Security payments and crucial benefits.
Republicans continue to insist that Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, should act to lift the debt ceiling without any votes from the minority party. Democrats, who helped raise the cap under the Trump administration, have argued that Republicans should help shoulder the political responsibility for such measure.
But in the Senate, where both parties control 50 seats, Republicans are adamant that they will not help Democrats clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance most pieces of legislation.
Democrats initially sought to address the debt ceiling with a provision in the funding package passed and signed into law on Thursday to keep the government open through early December, but Senate Republicans blocked its inclusion.
“Despite Republicans’ intransigence, the facts have not changed: we must raise the debt ceiling,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “We cannot allow America to default.”
Democrats tried to waive the 60-vote threshold for a stand-alone debt ceiling bill earlier this week, arguing that Republicans just needed to step aside and allow the measure to reach the floor. But Republicans refused to do so, arguing that Democrats should instead use the same fast-track reconciliation process to lift the debt ceiling that they are already planning to use to advance a sprawling social policy bill that could cost as much as $3.5 trillion.
“The conclusion to draw from this week is very clear: Clumsy efforts at partisan jams do not work,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “What works is when the majority accepts reality.”
While Democrats are currently using the reconciliation process to advance Mr. Biden’s domestic policy package, they have argued it would be too time-consuming and complex to use it to address the national debt.
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