After weeks of brinkmanship, the Senate voted Thursday night to temporarily raise the debt limit by $480 billion until Dec. 3.
The procedural move to break the GOP filibuster, which required 60 votes, was the first hurdle cleared, with a final count of 61-38. At least 10 Republicans needed to side with all Democrats to clear the hurdle to move forward to a final vote; 11 ultimately voted to advance the vote.
Democrats then raised the debt limit with a simple majority — 50-48. No Republican voted with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.
Before the debt hike hits President Joe Biden’s desk, it also needs to pass the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted in a letter Thursday night that the House may have to return early from recess to vote on the debt ceiling legislation. The House was expected to return Oct. 19 — one day after Yellen warned lawmakers the U.S. would default — so it’s likely they will have to come back sometime next week.
Republican leaders initially struggled to find 10 GOP votes to break the filibuster following weeks of messaging to members that Democrats should go it alone.
But 11 Republicans ultimately voted to advance the debt ceiling vote. They were: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, West Virginia Sen. Shelly Moore Capito and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso.
The first member of the Republican conference to cast a yes vote was Cornyn, who, after a long pause, gave a firm thumbs up to the clerk.
Only moments later, McConnell arrived on the floor in a rare early appearance for the minority leader, who usually waits until later in the vote series to cast a vote. But Thursday, it was clear he was making his presence known.
McConnell strutted directly down the center aisle of the chamber, and rather than giving a thumbs up, he gave a bellowing and affirmative “aye.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced earlier in the day that Democrats and Republicans had reached an agreement to avert the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time.
“We have reached an agreement to extend the debt ceiling through early December, and it’s our hope that we can get this done as soon as today,” Schumer said Thursday morning, referring to a Senate vote.
McConnell followed Schumer and confirmed the deal was close to a vote — with the GOP leader claiming credit for saving the American people from default and the Democrats from themselves.
“The Senate is moving toward the plan I laid out last night to spare the American people a manufactured crisis,” he said.
The agreement to raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion gives the Treasury Department the borrowing authority it says is needed to get the government through to Dec. 3.
The Senate deal comes a little more than a week before Oct. 18 — the date Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pegged as when the U.S. will no longer be able to cover its debts. Dec. 3 is the expiration date of the stopgap government funding bill needed to keep the government running.
The deal also comes as Democrats are still working to pass Biden’s sweeping domestic policy agenda, paving the way for a busy two months.
Some Republicans have privately expressed frustration with McConnell, after following GOP messaging for weeks that Democrats would have to raise the debt ceiling on their own.
“In the end, we’ll be there,” Thune, the Republican whip, said. “It’ll be a painful birthing process.”
Real-world consequences of the U.S. defaulting could include delays to Social Security payments and checks to service members, a suspension of veterans’ benefits and rising interest rates on credit cards, car loans and mortgages.
After White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s lukewarm reception to McConnell’s offers on Wednesday, the White House appeared more receptive on Thursday, now that Democrats on the Hill signaled their agreement.
“This is a positive step forward, the debt ceiling, short term deal that we’re seeing and it gives us some breathing room from the catastrophic default we were approaching because of Senator McConnell’s decision to play politics with our economy,” deputy press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
Pressed on the change in tone, she said, “This is a temporary respite, but we’re not going to let up until Senator McConnell stops obstructing and allows us to put this behind us for good.”
Jean-Pierre wouldn’t say if the White House would sign on to Democrats beginning the budget reconciliation process for a longer-term debt ceiling fix, considering they’ll have more time now to navigate the complicated process, but it’s clear a longer-term solution will be needed.
“We’ll defer to them on the process,” she said of congressional Democrats, “But as the agreement shows there’s no, there’s nothing stopping Congress from addressing the debt limit, through regular order, which is what we have been asking for.”