The Senate voted late into the night on Thursday to approve a House-passed bill to suspend the debt limit with just days to go until Monday’s fast-approaching deadline to prevent a first-ever default.
After hours of discussion and debate, lawmakers considered and voted down 11 amendments to the bill — 10 from Republicans and one from a Democrat — before finally passing the bill, sending the measure to President Joe Biden's desk with just days to spare ahead of Monday's default deadline.
"No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: this bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people," Biden said in a statement shortly after the bill's passage.
"Our work is far from finished, but this agreement is a critical step forward, and a reminder of what’s possible when we act in the best interests of our country," Biden said. "I look forward to signing this bill into law as soon as possible and addressing the American people directly tomorrow."
The final vote was 63-36, following an overwhelmingly bipartisan 314-117 vote in the House one day prior. The White House announced that Biden will address the American people about the bill at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.
"By passing this bill, we will avoid default tonight," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor of the chamber Thursday evening ahead of the final vote. "America can breathe a sigh of relief sigh of relief.
"Avoiding default has been our North Star," he said. "The consequences of default would be catastrophic. It would almost certainly cause another recession. It would be a nightmare for our economy and millions of American families. It would take years — years — to recover from."
Schumer indeed acted with urgency throughout the night, keeping a close eye on the Senate Clerk and the time of each of the 11 amendment votes — each of which was scheduled for 10 minutes. The first amendment vote, proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took more than 45 minutes to complete. (It failed, 21 in favor to 75 against.) Afterwards, and with each subsequent vote, Schumer — like a father keeping a sharp eye on the thermostat — admonished his colleagues to stay in their seats and speed up the process.
Of the 11 amendments, eight required a 60 yea vote supermajority; the other three, proposed by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Tim Kaine, D-Va., and John Kennedy, R-La., required only a simple majority for approval. None passed — and Kennedy, acknowledging the late hour and the likelihood of passage (essentially zero) accepted a quick voice vote on his amendment, the last before final passage of the bill.
Forty-six Democrats, 17 Republicans and one independent senator -- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. -- voted in favor of the bill. Thirty-one Republicans, four Democrats and one independent senator who caucuses with Democrats -- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. -- voted against the measure.
“Thanks to House Republicans’ efforts, the Fiscal Responsibility Act avoids the catastrophic consequences of default and begins to curb Washington Democrats’ addiction to reckless spending that grows our nation’s debt," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "But our work is far from over, particularly in delivering necessary support to America’s armed forces. In the coming months, Senate Republicans will continue working to provide for the common defense and control Washington Democrats’ reckless spending.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen celebrated the bill's passage, noting that default would have caused "severe hardship" for the country.
"Congress has a duty to ensure that the United States can pay its bills on time, and I continue to strongly believe that the full faith and credit of the United States must never be used as a bargaining chip," Yellen said. "Now, our focus is to continue to deliver on the President’s economic agenda.”
The House overwhelmingly passed the bill, known as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, despite defections from dozens of defections from members of both parties. The final vote was 314-117, with 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats coming together to back the accord between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
"I have been thinking about this day before my vote for Speaker because I knew the debt ceiling was coming," McCarthy said at a press conference following Wednesday's vote. "I wanted to make history. I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship and for the first time in quite some time, we'd spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, we all made history."
"Is it everything I wanted? No," McCarthy added. "But sitting with one house, with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president who didn't want to meet with us, I think we did pretty dang good for the American public."
The agreement, and the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, comes after months of back-and-forth negotiations heated talks between House Republicans, who demanded steep spending cuts in exchange for any action on the debt limit, and the White House, which initially refused to negotiate over the country’s borrowing power.
The measure suspends the debt limit for two years in exchange for two years of spending caps and other provisions, including clawing back some COVID-19 funds, imposing new work requirements for Americans receiving food aid, and clearing the way for a controversial pipeline backed by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, but opposed by many of his Democratic colleagues.
The bill sparked outcry among conservative members of McCarthy’s conference, who argued that it doesn’t go far enough to curtail spending. One House Republican, North Carolina Rep. Dan Bishop, publicly floated voting to remove McCarthy from his post over the vote.
“The indication in the vote that more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans did … is a sign who got the best of the deal,” Bishop said on Fox News Wednesday night after the vote, adding: “It split the Republican conference deeply, and now Kevin McCarthy’s got to figure out how we reacquire the unity that we started the year with.”
Progressives in the House also balked at the bill, citing concerns about some of the measure's provisions, including the new work requirements on food aid. But the defections in the lower chamber – 71 from the Republican side and 46 from the Democratic side – were not nearly enough Wednesday to overcome the overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill.
In a sign of increased urgency on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader McConnell offered his full backing of the bill, saying that the measure "makes the most serious headway in years towards curbing Washington Democrats' reckless spending addiction."
"The bill that the House just passed has the potential to cut federal spending by $1.5 trillion," the Kentucky Republican said. "Now the Senate has the chance to make that important progress."
But some Senate lawmakers – on both sides of the aisle – pushed for amendments to the bill, including Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, introduced an amendment Thursday to strip the provision about the Manchin-backed Mountain Valley Pipeline from the bill.
"I filed an amendment to stop the fast-tracking of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — especially when it takes away Virginians’ land," Kaine wrote on Twitter. "We shouldn’t let an unhappy corporation go to Congress to bypass the process everybody else goes through. Everyday people don’t get that deal."
Manchin spoke on the Senate floor after Kaine on Thursday evening, praising his friendship with the Virginia Democrat while defending the pipeline project.
"There's all different people who are upset, I understand that," Manchin said, calling Kaine "my good friend from Virginia, my Senate friend, we were co-governors together and our families are very close. This doesn't affect our relationship. It doesn't affect our friendship. It doesn't affect basically us fighting for many of the same causes. But it brings a healthy discussion."
"What we have right today before us is a project that's going to help an awful lot of people, 4.5 million just in one state," the West Virginia Democrat said, before warning that a vote for Kaine's amendment would cause a delay on passage of the debtl imit bill -- adding time they cannot afford.
"There's so much at risk right now," he said. "If we move forward and would pass this amendment that would go on this bill, it would have to go back to the House ... we cannot take that risk."
Kaine's amendment failed in a 30-69 vote.
Some lawmakers also expressed concerns about the bill's defense spending levels, like Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who called the top-line figure "completely inadequate," and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who called it "one of the most ill-conceived ideas for national defense" since 2011's debt limit standoff.
“Putin’s invasion is a defining moment of the 21st century,” Graham said, charging that "what the House did is wrong.”
"This bill poses a mortal risk to our national security by cutting our defense budget which I cannot support as grave dangers gather on the horizon," said Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "A Congress with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate has now produced a defense budget worse in real terms than either defense budget produced by a unified Democratic Congress. I cannot vote for that curious result."
Lawmakers pushed for a commitment from leadership for a separate supplemental bill to address defense spending and secured an agreement from leadership. Schumer read a statement on the Senate floor Thursday night which said that the bill "does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries."
"The Senate is not about to ignore our national needs or abandon our friends and allies who face urgent threats from America's most dangerous adversaries," Schumer said, adding: "A strong bipartisan majority of senators stands ready to receive and process emergency funding requests from the administration."
Schumer made the case that there is “no good reason to bring this process down to the wire,” noting that adding amendments to the bill – which would send it back to the House – would be unacceptable.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came out ahead of the vote to say that they would not back the bill, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a 2024 presidential candidate, and North Carolina Sen. Ted Budd.
“Throughout this process, I have said that we should only raise the debt ceiling if we fix Washington’s spending addiction,” Budd said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, this bill fails to do that. The bill normalizes pandemic-era spending levels, greenlights trillions more, and retains the vast majority of President Biden’s IRS expansion. While I respect Speaker McCarthy’s efforts to force President Biden to the negotiating table, this final product does not fundamentally alter our country’s disastrous fiscal path.”
All told, much like Wednesday's House vote, more Democrats (46) than Republicans (17) voted to pass the measure.
"An overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats voted for the bill," Schumer said Thursday night at a press conference after the vote. "A majority of Republicans voted against it. And it's not just how Democrats carried the bill to the finish line, but why. Why did we get more votes? We got more votes because the bill beat back the worst of the Republican agenda."
Some lawmakers even called on Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment do away with the debt limit once and for all, something the president was hesitant to do throughout the debt limit negotiations.
"It is time we put an end to this dangerous brinkmanship at the next possible opportunity by scrapping this debt ceiling and taking the threat of default off the table once and for all," Washington Sen. Patty Murray said on the Senate floor Thursday.
"Let's get one thing straight: hostage-taking is not regular order," she later added. "It is just not. That's not the way we should arrive at the top lines for our spending bills."
“The fact of the matter is that this bill is totally unnecessary,” Sanders said in a statement on Wednesday “The President has the authority and ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of this extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to get what they want.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.