Bill to Avoid Default on U.S. Debt Advances in Senate Vote

  • Final vote on bipartisan budget plan may occur within hours
  • House already passed bil that dodges Nov. 3 default deadline

The Senate advanced a two-year budget plan that would avoid a U.S. debt default just days before the deadline to extend the limit on U.S. borrowing.

The Senate voted 63-35 early Friday to set up a final vote that may occur within hours. The legislation, passed by the House in a rare bipartisan 266-167 vote Wednesday, allows the U.S. to continue borrowing until March 2017 and includes a two-year deal on defense and non-defense spending.

Final approval would send the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature. It also would end more than a month of turmoil in the fractious Republican conference that started Sept. 25, when then-Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said he would resign rather than fight an effort by hardline conservatives to remove him.

Lawmakers are racing to beat a Nov. 3 deadline for raising the debt limit. Passage of the legislation, H.R. 1314, would mean that through the end of Obama’s presidency conservatives could no longer threaten to force a default in an effort to win unrelated policy changes.

The plan also reduces the chances of a government shutdown. It includes a two-year deal on defense and non-defense spending levels, though lawmakers still must work out details before current government funds expire Dec. 11. Spending caps would be increased by $80 billion in 2016 and 2017 and paid for with savings and revenue in the future.

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While the agreement was negotiated by Obama and top lawmakers from both parties, it faces opposition from three Republican senators running for president who paint the agreement as a symbol of Washington’s problems.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said the Republican majority was handing Obama a "diamond-encrusted, glow-in-the-dark American Express card." He accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, of working for Democrats.

"We are abdicating any congressional authority over the debt that is burdening our kids and grandkids," Cruz said during a floor speech late Thursday.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement the agreement delays "tough decisions until after the next election." Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said on the Senate floor early Friday, "This is a bipartisan busting of the budget caps that will further indenture our next generation."

The House passed the bill 266-167 Wednesday with mostly Democratic votes. It was the last major legislation passed before Boehner gave up his gavel to new Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was elected and sworn in Thursday.

Boehner decided to leave Congress after repeated battles with conservatives in his Republican conference. Most recently, members of the hardline Freedom Caucus had threatened to shut down the government Oct. 1 in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, the women’s health-care provider whose services include abortion.

Ryan has promised to give rank-and-file Republicans more of a say in running the House. Freedom Caucus member Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said Ryan dropped his demand to make it harder for dissident members to remove the speaker.

Ryan also promised “to reject last-minute deals, and to stop the culture of retribution and intimidation against fellow Republicans,” Huelskamp said.

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