The U.S. Senate will stay in session until it passes a bill to lift the government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday.
The chamber has just four days left to pass the measure — which would suspend the limit through Jan. 1, 2025 — and send it to President Joe Biden to sign, averting a catastrophic default.
“We will keep working until the job is done,” Schumer said in a floor speech, adding that the Senate will begin the process of passing the legislation on Thursday.
The top Democrat and Republican in chamber vowed to do all they could to speed along the bill negotiated by Biden and Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which would suspend the debt limit, essentially temporarily removing it, in exchange for a cap on spending.
It remained to be seen whether any members of their respective caucuses, particularly hardline Republicans angry the bill did not include deeper spending cuts, would use the Senate’s arcane rules to try to slow down its passage.
Schumer said on Wednesday that the Senate would not make any amendments on the bill, which would send it back to the House for re-approval.
The Treasury Department warned it will be unable to pay all its bills on June 5 if Congress fails to act.
The Republican-controlled House passed the bill on Wednesday evening in a 314-117 vote. McCarthy lost the support of dozens of his fellow Republicans.
“Time is a luxury the Senate does not have,” Schumer said on Thursday. “Any needless delay or any last-minute holdups would be an unnecessary and even dangerous risk… The vast majority of senators recognize that passing this bill is supremely important.”
His counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, also signaled on Wednesday that he would work for fast passage, saying, “I’ll be proud to support it without delay.”
Biden’s Democrats control the Senate by a thin 51-49 margin. The chamber’s rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation, meaning at least nine Republican votes are needed to pass most bills, including the debt ceiling deal.
The measure faces opposition from the right, with some Republicans angry the spending cuts weren’t deeper, and left, with some Democrats opposed to new work requirements imposed on some antipoverty programs. But most lawmakers acknowledged they could not stomach the prospect of barreling ahead into default.
Schumer and McConnell were working behind the scenes to dissuade opponents from erecting procedural barriers that would delay passage.
Typically on important, contentious bills such as this one, the two Senate leaders find a way to allow just a couple rebelling senators from each party to offer amendments under fast-track procedures, knowing they will lack the votes for passage.
Republicans are considering several amendments on defense-related issues alone, most of which would have a 50-vote threshold, said Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican.
A 50-vote threshold, rather than the chamber’s usual 60, could increase the odds that the Senate might alter the House bill, requiring it to return to the House for yet another vote before heading to Biden’s desk.
“There’ll be several on defense,” said Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican.
Any Senate changes to the bill at this stage would mean it would have to go back to the House for final passage, a delay that could make the first-ever U.S. government default a reality.
Republican Senator Rand Paul who regularly seeks such last-minute amendments, told CBS News on Wednesday he will not employ parliamentary procedures to delay action.
But another Republican, Mike Lee, has said he may try to slow it down. On Wednesday he vowed to vote against the bill, but did not reiterate his threat to try to delay it. Chastising House Republican negotiators for agreeing to what he sees as a weak compromise with Democrats, Lee lamented, “With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?”
The bill was cobbled together over weeks of intensive negotiations between surrogates for Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The main argument was over spending for the next couple years on “discretionary” programs, such as housing, education and medical research that Republicans wanted to cut deeply while seeking increases in funding for the military, veterans and possibly border security.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates would save $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That is below the $4.8 trillion in savings that Republicans aimed for in a bill they passed through the House in April, and also below the $3 trillion in deficit that Biden’s proposed budget would have reduced the deficit over that time through new taxes.
The last time the United States came this close to default was in 2011. That standoff hammered financial markets, led to the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating and pushed up the nation’s borrowing costs.`