US Senate races towards final vote on debt ceiling bill

The US Senate is poised to vote on legislation to stave off a historic default on the country’s debt, as lawmakers from the upper chamber of Congress raced to approve a bipartisan fiscal pact.

The push in the upper chamber of Congress, which is controlled by Democrats, came one day after the Republican-led House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation lifting the US’s borrowing limit and setting caps on new government spending.

After considering a series of amendments, the Senate is expected to cast a final vote on the bill late on Thursday.

The Senate would stay in session until the debt ceiling bill was approved, Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said. Lawmakers often try to leave Washington at the weekend to return to their constituencies, and Schumer’s decision was seen as an attempt to ram the legislation through quickly.

The bill approved by the House and being considered in the Senate reflects an agreement negotiated by President Joe Biden and Republican House speaker Kevin McCarthy in the past two weeks. If a deal were not reached, the US risks running out of money to pay its bills on June 5.

“I hope that very soon we can finish the job of putting default in our rear-view mirror,” Schumer said.

He added: “This is the best thing we can do right now for our economy and for American families. I’m optimistic the Senate is going to get this done, but it will take one more concerted, focused and bipartisan push to get us over the finish line.”

The strong bipartisan vote in the House, with 314 lawmakers voting in favour and 117 rejecting the deal, has added momentum to its chances of passing quickly through the Senate. Once it clears the Senate, it is expected to be signed into law by Biden.

There are a number of senators from both parties who are opposed to the deal or parts of it. Even though there are no formal caps on defence spending, Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, is worried that it could lead to limits on the Pentagon budget in the future, and sought assurances that further military outlays could be approved separately.

“You cannot say with a straight face that this military budget is a counter to Chinese aggression, that it adequately allows us to defeat Putin,” Graham said. “A military budget should be based on threats, not political deals to avoid default.”

The two Democratic senators from Virginia, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, are objecting to the last-minute inclusion of a provision speeding up the completion of a controversial natural gas pipeline in the pact.

Progressive senator Bernie Sanders has said he would vote against the deal because it cuts spending without raising taxes on the wealthy.

Most of the 11 proposed amendments to the law would have to clear a 60-vote threshold that could be hard to achieve with Schumer and McConnell committed to passing the bill unchanged as rapidly as possible.

Any change to the legislation would send it back to the House, making it almost impossible for the bill to be enacted before June 5.

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