Senate to Vote Today to Lift Debt Cap, Send Bill to Obama

The Senate plans to vote today on legislation to lift the U.S. debt limit without conditions and send the measure to President Barack Obama, marking a win for Democrats who refused to consider Republican conditions.

Senators will vote on the debt limit measure at about 1:45 p.m. Washington time, said Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

Under an agreement reached today, the bill will require 60 votes to advance to an immediate vote on final passage, meaning Democrats will need support from at least five Republicans. Democrats control 55 seats in the 100-member chamber.

“We should wrap this up today,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “I hope we can vote on this and vote soon.”

The Senate’s action, which would clear the measure for Obama’s signature, comes a day after the Republican-led House of Representatives passed the legislation with just 28 Republican votes.

At least one Senate Republican -- Mark Kirk of Illinois -- said he will support the measure. Kirk told reporters today at the Capitol that he was voting “yes” to “calm down markets” and “make sure that all the jitters that are currently out there in the marketplace aren’t there.”

Senate Republicans

Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Rob Portman of Ohio were among those in their party who said today that they hadn’t settled on a position.

Maine’s Susan Collins, the only Republican senator seeking re-election this year in a state Obama won in 2012, said she hadn’t “made any announcements at this point.”

Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said he thinks Democrats will persuade at least five Republicans to vote in favor of advancing the debt-limit measure. Flake said he wouldn’t be among them.

The bill, which the House passed 221-201, would suspend the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015, more than four months after the November congressional elections.

House Speaker John Boehner and members of his leadership team were among the Republican votes in favor of suspending the borrowing cap. The Ohio Republican’s decision to drop demands for spending cuts or policy conditions that prompted previous debt-limit showdowns drew ire from groups aligned with the small-government, Tea-Party wing of Republicans.

Praising Boehner

Reid praised Boehner today, saying the speaker has “one of the most difficult jobs in Washington, especially when you look at the caucus that he has to deal with.”

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican aligned with the Tea Party, said yesterday he would push to require a 60-vote threshold in the chamber for a debt ceiling increase.

“Republicans in the Senate and House should stand united” Cruz told reporters. “Stop digging the debt-hole deeper and deeper.”

Republicans’ divisions on spending helped provoke a 16-day partial government shutdown in October. The divide weakened Boehner’s negotiating position with Obama and Reid, who stuck to their refusal to consider conditions for raising the debt limit.

Cruz was a leader in the push last year to demand ending funding for the 2010 health-care law as a condition of financing the government. That effort eventually failed.

A suspension of the U.S. debt limit enacted by Congress in October expired Feb. 7. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said last week that borrowing authority may not last past Feb. 27.

Treasury Bills

Rates fell on Treasury bills due on March 6, maturing after the Feb. 27 date on which Lew said the U.S. would exhaust extraordinary measures to keep under the debt limit. The rate fell by 50 percent to 0.025 basis points.

Senate passage of the debt-limit suspension would delay the need for another increase until mid-2015 because income tax payments will postpone the date when the government exhausts its borrowing authority.

Barring significant economic or fiscal policy changes, a debt-ceiling increase wouldn’t be needed for “at least a few months” after the March 15 date, said Shai Akabas, associate director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

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