The House Passes A Bill To Avoid A Debt Default, But It's Mostly Symbolic

29September 2021

A bill to suspend the nation’s borrowing limit through mid-December of next year passed the House on Wednesday 219-212. It is expected to fail in the Senate.

Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP

Facing multiple deadlines, Democratic leaders tried to make some headway — even if only symbolically — by passing a bill Wednesday that would suspend the nation’s borrowing limit through mid-December of next year.

The measure passed 219-212, largely along party lines but is expected to fail in the Senate.

There was no movement on the more pressing problem of the day, a looming government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday morning that the chamber would vote on a bill that funds the government through Dec. 3, as well as provide emergency aid for disasters and Afghan refugees.

Negotiations over possible amendments to that funding bill have pushed that vote to Thursday. The government shuts down at midnight Thursday without the funds. The bill would then still need to pass the House and get signed by President Joe Biden to avert a shutdown.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she expects the House to take up the government funding measure Thursday. “I think we’ll have a big vote tomorrow. It will be bipartisan,” Pelosi said.

House Democrats had originally passed a bill that would have suspended the nation’s borrowing limit to the bill that funds the government. Senate Republicans blocked the measure in a procedural vote that required 60 senators to vote to advance.

Republicans from both the House and the Senate have objected to raising the debt limit while Democrats work on a spending as much as $3.5 trillion on Biden’s top policy proposals, including climate, education and childcare, through a process called budget reconciliation. Republicans argue if Democrats plan to pass that spending package with Democrat votes alone, they can include suspending the debt limit in that package.

Democratic leaders counter raising the debt limit has traditionally been a bipartisan endeavor and this includes debt accrued under the Trump administration.

Complicating matters, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress on Tuesday that the government could run out of cash to pay it’s bills by Oct. 18.

And one further complication: Democrats are not close to an agreement on a price tag for the larger social spending package to attach a measure to suspend the nation’s borrowing limit. There is also no guarantee that such a measure would clear all the legislative hurdles by Oct. 18.

The stakes are high for Democrats, especially Biden.

“The president cannot afford another disaster,” said Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. “He is wrapped in disasters, whether at the border or Afghanistan or with COVID. And if if he blows up the economy, it would be something from which you could never recover.”

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