(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An American flag flies outside of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval on Tuesday to a Senate-passed bill temporarily raising the government’s borrowing limit to $28.9 trillion, putting off the risk of default at least until early December.
Democrats, who narrowly control the House, maintained party discipline to pass the hard-fought, $480 billion debt limit increase https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senate-democrats-republicans-haggle-over-short-term-debt-fix-2021-10-07 by 219-206. The vote was along party lines, with every yes from Democrats and every no from Republicans.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law this week, before Oct. 18, when the Treasury Department has estimated it would no longer be able to pay the nation’s debts without congressional action.
Republicans insist Democrats should take responsibility for raising the debt limit because they want to spend trillions of dollars to expand social programs and tackle climate change. Democrats say the increased borrowing authority is needed largely to cover the cost of tax cuts and spending programs during former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration, which House Republicans supported.
House passage warded off concerns that the United States – the world’s largest economy – would go into default for the first time, but only for about seven weeks, setting the stage for continued fighting between the parties.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wrote to Biden on Friday that he would not work with Democrats on another debt limit increase. McConnell was harshly criticized by Trump, the Republican party’s leader, after the Senate vote.
Lawmakers also have only until Dec. 3 to pass spending legislation to prevent a government shutdown.
MORE PARTISAN FIGHTING AHEAD
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she hoped there could be a future bipartisan solution to the debt ceiling issue, despite McConnell’s warning.
Pelosi told her weekly news conference that a Democratic proposal to allow the Treasury Department to lift the debt ceiling, with Congress having the ability to overrule it, “has merit.”
She also repeated that Democrats do not want to use a procedural maneuver called “reconciliation” to raise the ceiling. Reconciliation would let Democrats raise the ceiling with 51 votes rather than the 60 required under the Senate’s filibuster rule if Republicans continue to refuse to cooperate.
The Senate’s vote last week to raise the limit – which had been more routine before the current era of fierce partisanship – turned into a brawl. Republicans tried to link the measure to Biden’s goal of passing multitrillion-dollar legislation to bolster infrastructure and social services while fighting climate change.
Pelosi said she is optimistic that Democrats can work out changes to reduce the cost of their social policy plans “in a timely fashion.” Asked if Democrats could do this by Oct. 31, she repeated that she was “optimistic.”
In another sign compromise was possible, progressive Democrats told reporters that most of them wanted to keep all the proposed programs in the multitrillion-dollar bill, while shortening the time period to cut its overall cost.
Biden has suggested a range of more like $2 trillion rather than the initial $3.5 trillion target. Pelosi said she would not bring legislation to the House floor if it cannot pass the Senate, where moderate Democrats Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema both say they cannot support a $3.5 trillion cost.
The months-long fight over the debt limit is closely tied to the November 2022 congressional elections when Republicans are trying to gain majorities in both the House and Senate.
The Senate passed the bill raising the debt limit with votes from every Democrat, after 11 of the 50 Republicans agreed not to try to block the vote.
Democratic lawmakers fear that a Republican boycott of future efforts to raise the debt ceiling will leave them exposed to political attack ads over the next year that accuse Democrats of fiscal malfeasance and disregard for the ballooning debt.
But Democrats in turn accuse Republicans of being willing to let the country default on its debts to score political points.
During the Trump administration, the debt limit was raised three times with the support of Democrats, despite their uniform opposition to Republican initiatives that added to government debt like 2017 tax-cut legislation and Trump priorities like construction of a southwest border wall to keep out immigrants, all of which increased the deficit.
U.S. House votes to hike debt ceiling, avert default