The House passed a measure late Tuesday night to raise the debt limit to nearly $31 trillion, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden in time to prevent an economically devastating default.
The chamber voted 221-209 to pass the measure, a move expected to save the Treasury Department from fully exhausting its ability to pay interest on the nation’s $29 trillion in loans — a crisis that could hit as soon as Wednesday. The final passage vote ends more than four months of economic uncertainty as the two parties sparred over how to handle the borrowing cap after the nation’s two-year debt waiver expired at the end of July.
The debt limit increase will “spare families the pain of a catastrophic default” and “uphold the full faith and credit” of the United States, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the final vote.
The measure would increase the debt limit by $2.5 trillion, a sum expected to last into 2023 without the need for another vote to raise the borrowing cap. That would get Democrats through the midterm elections next year before having to hike the ceiling again.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Democrats advanced the measure on their own through simple-majority votes, thanks to the bipartisan accord Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struck with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Responsible governing has won on this exceedingly important issue,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The American people can breathe easy and rest assured there will not be a default.”
The party-line vote did not sit well with every Democrat, however. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock said he “wrestled” with the issue over the weekend, arguing that the same filibuster-proof status should be applied to stalled voting rights legislation. He ultimately supported the debt limit hike.
While Schumer noted that action to raise the nation’s borrowing cap “is about paying debt accumulated by both parties,” Republicans continue to characterize the debt limit increase as a way for Democrats to facilitate more deficit spending, which GOP lawmakers say will drive further inflation.
“Washington Democrats’ printing, borrowing and spending addiction is directly hurting American families,” McConnell said on the floor Tuesday. “If they jam through another reckless taxing-and-spending spree, this massive debt increase will just be the beginning.”
The Kentucky Republican pinned responsibility for raising the country’s borrowing limit on his counterparts across the aisle. But the minority leader helped facilitate the debt limit increase by offering enough Republican support to grant Democrats a one-time reprieve from the filibuster to allay the debt issue, a measure that passed the Senate with 14 GOP votes last week.
For decades, action on the debt limit was considered a responsibility lawmakers from both parties should shoulder together, since the borrowing is the result of policies enacted under GOP and Democratic control alike.
However, Republicans are now rejecting any onus for preventing the country from hitting the limit. Instead, they argue, Democrats should own the debt burden alone since they have embraced the budget reconciliation process to pass trillions of dollars in new spending this year without GOP support.
The sheer size of the national debt is also a sticking point for many Republicans.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) said he is “extraordinarily concerned” to see the debt limit hiked beyond $30 trillion for the first time in U.S. history, and “to see the debt going up to a level that exceeds our GDP.”
The United States’ debt has for several years eclipsed the nation’s gross domestic product, which topped $23 trillion in the Commerce Department’s latest count.