Debt Limit Fight Moves to the Senate as Default Date Nears

Leaders of both parties urged quick action to avoid a default, but some senators want to consider changes.

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Debt Limit Fight Moves to the Senate as Default Date Nears |

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said the Senate would remain in session until it approved the package.

Debate on a bipartisan bill to suspend the debt limit and impose spending caps moved on Thursday to the Senate, where leaders of both parties were racing to shut down efforts to derail it in time to clear it for President Biden’s signature before a potential government default on Monday.

The morning after the House overwhelmingly passed legislation, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said the Senate would remain in session until it approved the package. He warned lawmakers against engaging in brinkmanship before the so-called X-date, when Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has said the government will run out of cash to pay its bills.

“Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent default,” Mr. Schumer said. “June 5 is less than four days away. At this point, any needless delay or any last-minute holdups would be an unnecessary and even dangerous risk.”

But the timetable for Senate action was in flux, with officials cautioning that the bill might not be approved until Friday at the earliest and critics venting their dissatisfaction with the plan.

Even as the deal migrated across the Capitol, the effects of the debt limit continued to pinch. The Treasury announced on Thursday that it would delay auctions of three-month and six-month “bills” — short-term debt that the government no longer has room to take on until the borrowing cap is suspended.

Multiple senators have said they want to propose amendments to the bill, which suspends the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling for two years while cutting spending on domestic programs. They have the ability to slow the measure procedurally if they are denied the opportunity.

Senators were negotiating which amendments would be allowed on the floor, but Mr. Schumer was determined to defeat them. Any changes would force the measure back to the House, where no action would be likely to occur before the default deadline.

“Any change to this bill that forces us to send it back to the House would be entirely unacceptable,” he said. “It would almost guarantee default.”

Among those seeking votes is Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who on Thursday called for stripping a provision from the legislation that would expedite the approval of an oil pipeline in West Virginia.

“I support improving the permitting process for all energy projects,” Mr. Kaine said. “But Congress putting its thumb on the scale so that one specific project doesn’t have to comply with the same process as everyone else is the definition of unfair and opens the door to corruption.”

Several conservative Republicans also want to offer proposals for deeper spending cuts in the measure, while others criticized the Pentagon spending figures in the bill, saying they were too low and could hinder military readiness. But pursuing changes at this point would prove problematic and derail the legislation. Leaders were likely to set the threshold for approval of changes at 60 votes to make them easier to defeat.

After driving much of the legislative agenda the previous two years, the Senate left negotiating on the debt limit to Mr. Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose demand for spending cuts and other policy changes brought the country to the brink of default. As a result, senators had little influence over the negotiations and are now being forced to approve legislation they did not help shape.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, urged his fellow Republicans to back the plan.

“Last night, an overwhelming majority of our House colleagues voted to pass the agreement Speaker McCarthy reached with President Biden,” he said. “In doing so, they took an urgent and important step in the right direction for the health of our economy and the future of our country.”

Joe Rennison contributed reporting from New York.

Carl Hulse is chief Washington correspondent and a veteran of more than three decades of reporting in the capital. @hillhulse


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