Senate passes bill to suspend debt limit

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The Senate today passed legislation to suspend the nation's debt limit that, once signed into law, will stave off the threat of letting the U.S. government default on its loans for a few months.

The "No budget, no pay" bill, which passed in the House last week, passed in the Senate 64 to 34. It now goes to the White House for the president's signature.

The White House has said the "No budget, no pay" bill is far from ideal, since it only temporarily puts off the threat of default, but that President Obama will sign it anyway.

The opposition to the legislation in the Senate came almost entirely from Republicans, with one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voting against it.

The legislation, crafted by House Republicans, suspends the debt limit until May 19. The U.S. Treasury has already hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit, but the department has been able to extend its borrowing authority through various accounting tricks. Failing to grant the Treasury more borrowing authority could have disastrous economic consequences.

While the immediate threat of default is now off the table, Congress now has a series of fiscal deadlines ahead of it. In addition to raising the debt limit in May, lawmakers must decide by March 1 whether or not to avert the so-called "sequestration," which refers to a series of deep, across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense programs.

Congress must also get to work drafting budgets. Currently, federal operations are funded by a "continuing resolution" set to expire on March 27. If Congress extends government funding beyond that, the government could partially shut down.

In addition to suspending the debt limit, the "No budget, no pay" bill requires both chambers of Congress to either pass a budget or have their salary held in escrow until a budget is passed (the escrow gets around a Constitutional issue involving members' pay). The Senate hasn't passed a budget in four years, but Senate Democrats say they are planning to draft and pass one this year.