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The Senate votes for a short-term increase in the federal debt ceiling

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., reaches a deal with Republicans for a short-term increase of the debt ceiling. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., reaches a deal with Republicans for a short-term increase of the debt ceiling. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Updated October 7, 2021 at 8:36 PM ET

The Senate has passed a bill to increase the federal debt ceiling, after weeks of tense cross-aisle negotiations regarding the looming threat of the country defaulting on its debt.

The legislation was approved Thursday night along party lines, with a simple majority. An earlier procedural vote required Republicans to get to 60 votes. It got 61. House approval is still needed.

The votes followed a bipartisan deal from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to avoid the immediate threat of default by shifting the debt limit deadline to early December.

The bill would increase the borrowing limit by $480 billion. The Treasury Department estimates that amount should be sufficient to keep debt payments flowing until Dec. 3.

The White House called the agreement a positive step. "It gives us some breathing room from the catastrophic default we were approaching," said Karine Jean-Pierre, the deputy press secretary.

But the agreement does nothing to resolve the broader standoff between the two parties over how to pass a long-term solution.

McConnell went to the Senate floor shortly after the deal was announced to reiterate that he wants Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a debt limit hike — a plan Democrats have repeatedly rejected.

"The pathway our Democratic colleagues have accepted will spare the American people any near-term crisis while definitively resolving the majority's excuse that they lack the time to address the debt limit through the 304 reconciliation process," McConnell said. "Now there will be no question, they will have plenty of time."

Democrats say they are not going to cave to McConnell's demands. They argue that tying the debt limit to budget reconciliation creates a dangerous precedent and allows Republicans to skirt their responsibility for debt that has already been accrued.

Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass some budget and spending related legislation without the threat of a filibuster, but it has limitations. It is traditionally a tool that can only be used once every fiscal year. Recent interpretations from the parliamentarian, the nonpartisan rule keeper in the Senate, allow for some narrow exceptions to the once-a-year rule, but it is still a limited tool.

Democrats are also wary of being forced into a procedural corner by McConnell. The fight over that process has not been addressed with this agreement, meaning the bitter fight will likely continue for the next two months.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.