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Senate passes legislation paving way for Congress to increase debt limit

The Senate voted Thursday night 59-35 to pave the way for Congress to increase the debt ceiling and steer the nation away from default. The legislative pathway is the latest step Congress has taken to avoid a catastrophic default and comes after weeks of negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate.

After the vote, Schumer thanked McConnell for working in "good faith" on the process to address the debt ceiling.

"It was responsible governing that won the day and now the bill is headed to the president's desk," Schumer said. "I expect after this legislation is signed, I expect new legislation will be introduced to increase the debt limit, and we intend to pass it by December 15. The American people can breathe easy and rest assured there will not be a default."  

Once it's law, the bill will allow the Senate to hold a separate, one-time vote to raise the debt limit with a simple majority, rather than with the 60 votes that are usually needed to pass Senate legislation. This means that the debt ceiling can be raised solely with the support of the Senate's 50 Democrats, plus Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie.

Mr. Biden is expected to sign the bill into law, and once that happens, lawmakers can begin an expedited process to raise the debt ceiling with a simple majority. 

On a procedural vote earlier Thursday to advance the fast-track process bill, 14 Republicans joined Democrats to avoid a filibuster. 

The exact amount Democrats plan to raise the debt ceiling by has yet to be revealed. The House and Senate votes to raise the debt ceiling are expected to occur next week by December 15, ensuring that the United States is able to pay its bills on time. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she is confident that the U.S. can pay its bills through that date. But she has warned there are scenarios in which the Treasury may not be able to pay some bills beyond that time, escalating the risk of default. The national debt currently clocks in at just shy of $29 trillion.

Earlier this week, McConnell and Schumer finalized their deal on how to raise the debt limit. They both navigated Republican opposition to raising the debt limit during Mr. Biden's presidency and avoided the drama that characterized the last raising of the debt limit. The bill that fast-tracks the process is also attached to a measure that delays cuts to Medicare.

Ahead of the procedural vote, Schumer thanked McConnell for his help in brokering a deal, calling their negotiations "fruitful, candid, productive."

"I'm optimistic that after today's vote, we'll be on a glide path to avoid a catastrophic default," Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

Although some Senate Republicans joined Democrats in the procedural vote to eliminate the threat of filibuster over the debt ceiling, no Republicans are expected to vote to raise the debt limit. 

At his weekly presser earlier this week, McConnell praised the debt-ceiling agreement he struck with Schumer that allowed the fast-track approach.

"I believe we have reached here a solution to the debt ceiling issue that's consistent with Republican views of raising the debt ceiling for this amount at this particular time and allows the Democrats to proudly own it, which they are happy to do," McConnell said Tuesday.

Republican lawmakers claim raising the debt limit greenlights new spending. However, lifting the debt limit does not allow new spending. It enables the government being able to pay debt already incurred. Republicans and Democrats addressed the debt ceiling in a bipartisan way three times during the Trump administration. 

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