The Senate on Thursday night capped four months of contentious debate and voted to send a compromise bill to President Biden’s desk that extends the government’s borrowing authority until January 2025 and staves off a potential default next week.
A large bipartisan majority of the Senate voted 63-36 to approve the bill, which already passed the House on Wednesday night.
The approval came after the Senate clinched an agreement to conduct a series of amendment votes Thursday night and move directly to final passage; the normally slow-moving chamber raced through a dozen votes in just over three hours.
“By passing this bill, we will avoid default tonight. America can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared on the Senate floor.
“From the start, avoiding default has been our North Star. The consequences of default would be catastrophic,” he said. “For all the ups and downs and twists and turns it took to get here, it is so good for this country that both parties have come together at last to avoid default.”
Senate Republican conservatives including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) joined Republican defense hawks including Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in voting against the bill.
A total of 31 Republicans voted against the measure, including Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.).
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, weren’t happy about caps on nondefense discretionary spending, tougher work requirements for federal food assistance and approval of a controversial natural gas pipeline — but the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for the bill to avoid a default.
Just four Democrats voted against the measure: Sens. John Fetterman (Pa.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), along with Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen warned congressional leaders that the federal government might run out of money June 5; if Congress didn’t raise the debt ceiling by then, it could cause an economic catastrophe.
Biden said in a statement Thursday night he would address the country Friday and looks “forward to signing this bill into law as soon as possible.”
“No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: This bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people,” he said.
The bill, which was negotiated between Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), would rescind some of the funding provided to the IRS in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act but otherwise leaves in place many of the Democratic priorities enacted in the last Congress.
It would not impose tougher work requirements for Medicaid recipients, something Biden said was off-limits, though it would expand work requirements for food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) hailed the legislation as a major win for Republicans.
“I think Speaker McCarthy should be congratulated on capturing a number of priorities,” he said, noting that Congress enacted approximately $2.7 trillion in new spending on party-line votes when Democrats were in full control in 2021 and 2022.
“So, we’ve gone from one party spending $2.7 trillion in two years to a discussion about actually reducing government spending. So, I think the American people’s decision to change House has already yielded benefits for our country,” he said.
The legislation would provide $886 billion for defense, which negotiators described as a 3-percent increase, and $637 billion for nondefense programs, according to a White House summary.
It would rescind $28 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds and enact modest reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act to speed the permitting of energy projects.
It would impose an across-the-board, 1-percent cut on discretionary spending if all 12 annual appropriations bills aren’t enacted by the end of the calendar year.
But several Senate conservatives panned the bill for not cutting nearly as much off the federal deficit as advertised.
“When I read the legislation that deals with these provisions, without fail, every one of the major provisions, the things that I thought were significant, didn’t do what they were purported to do, what they were supposed to do. And that’s concerning,” Lee told reporters.
The Utah conservative pilloried the bill this week as a “fake response to burdensome debt” and a “victory of expediency over integrity.”
Lee last week threatened to use “every procedural tool” at his disposal to impede any debt limit bill that didn’t include “substantial spending and budgetary reforms.”
But conservatives’ appetite to drag out the debate on the bill over the weekend was dampened by the huge bipartisan vote it got in the House.
Republican defense hawks had a different set of complaints about the legislation.
Graham, one of several defense hawks who held the bill up for hours Thursday in an effort to extract a promise from Schumer and McConnell to safeguard defense spending, slammed the legislation for not funding additional military assistance to Ukraine.
Graham argued the bill would actually cut the defense budget when measured against the rate of inflation.
“I’ve heard House leaders suggest this bill fully funds the military. For that to be true, you would have to believe that the military is OK if you cut their budget $42 billion below inflation. The party of Ronald Reagan would never allow inflation to reduce defense capabilities,” he said.
Graham teamed up with other Republican defense hawks to demand assurances from Schumer and McConnell to move the appropriations bills on time to avoid the potential of a 1 percent rescission and to move a supplemental defense spending package.
Schumer entered into the official record two statements promising to make every effort to ensure the Pentagon will have the money it needs and to move emergency spending packages if necessary.
“This debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries,” he pledged on the Senate floor.
Those assurances paved the way for colleagues to vote on 11 amendments to the bill and then final passage.
All of the amendments failed; Schumer warned that any changes to the legislation would require it to be sent back to the House and put the nation perilously close to default.
Kaine, the only Democrat to offer an amendment to the bill, failed in his attempt to strip language from the deal to expedite the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through his home state.
Though Schumer and McConnell were able to quell the revolt from Republican defense hawks, it’s uncertain whether they’ll be able to deliver on their promise to get all 12 appropriations bills passed by Christmas or, if necessary, a supplemental spending package to Biden’s desk.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said McCarthy didn’t sign off on the agreement between Senate leaders and defense-minded GOP senators.
“I didn’t have conversations with him about that. I know our goal … was trying to produce a result in the Senate that would help us get an outcome that we could put on the president’s desk without sending it back to the House of Representatives,” he said.
Asked how confident he is about a defense supplemental spending bill passing later in the year, Thune said, “hard to say.”
“It was important for some of our members have folks on the record acknowledging there clearly could be a need, will be a need, for our national security interests,” he said.
Al Weaver contributed. Updated at 11:15 p.m. EDT.