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

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
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.

Updated September 29, 2021 at 10:35 PM ET

Facing multiple deadlines, Democratic leaders in the House 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's a more pressing problem: a looming partial government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday night that the chamber would vote Thursday on a bill that would fund the government through Dec. 3, as well as provide emergency aid for disasters and Afghan refugees.

The bill would then need to pass the House and get signed by President Biden to avert a shutdown. The government shuts down at midnight Thursday without the funds.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 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 while also funding 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 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 that if Democrats plan to pass that spending measure with Democratic votes alone, they can include suspending the debt limit in that package.

Democratic leaders counter that raising the debt limit has traditionally been a bipartisan endeavor and the latest effort 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 its 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," Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said. "He is wrapped in disasters, whether at the border or Afghanistan or with COVID. And if he blows up the economy, it would be something from which you could never recover."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Caitlyn Kim

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