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POLITICS: PennAve

Senate clears debt limit bill, ending fight over borrowing until 2015

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Senate,Harry Reid,John Boehner,Debt Ceiling,PennAve,Economy,Budgets and Deficits,Law

The Senate Wednesday approved legislation to raise the nation's debt limit, clearing the bill for President Obama's signature and setting aside the contentious debate over the nation's borrowing habit until well after the critical 2014 election.

The vote was 55-43 on final passage of the legislation, which suspends the debt limit until March 15, 2015, without any special conditions or amendments. Only Democrats voted in favor of final passage, but in an earlier test vote, 12 Republicans voted to bring the bill to the floor in a 67-31 vote.

Wednesday's Congressional approval cuts short what many had predicted would be a weeks-long fight over how or whether to raise the debt ceiling, a battle that some feared would have rattled markets by running up against a Feb. 27 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Lew recently warned Congress he would run out of ways to fully fund the government by the end of the month unless he gained congressional permission to borrow more.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio, on Tuesday eliminated the prospect of a prolonged fight by putting a no-strings-attached debt-limit increase on the House floor, in defiance of many Republicans who wanted commensurate spending cuts or other GOP priorities in exchange for lifting the borrowing limit.

Boehner said he had little choice but to put a bill on the floor that Democrats would fully support because none of the “add ons” he proposed for a debt limit bill appealed to enough Republicans to pass the measure.

The House passed the measure 221-201. Only 28 Republicans voted for the bill.

“A few reasonable House Republicans were willing to join Democrats to avert a catastrophic default on this nation's obligations,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said before the Senate voted, “a default that would have thrown our economy into a tailspin and damaged this nation's standing in the world. I commend Speaker Boehner for doing the right thing.”

Despite the universal opposition from the House GOP, even those who voted against it said the majority of the conference agreed that Boehner did the right thing because an extended fight would have potentially hurt the economy and landed blame on Republicans ahead of a critical midterm election where the GOP has a solid chance of regaining the Senate.

“The next time [the debt ceiling vote] will come up will be after the next election,” Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.,who voted against the bill, told the Examiner. “Hopefully, we can win the Senate and we can have a completely different conversation at that point.”

Republican strategists agreed, noting that the congressional fight over federal funding in October led to a 16-day government shutdown that resulted in plummeting GOP poll numbers.

At that time, House Republicans had insisted on defunding the new health care law in exchange for approving 2014 federal spending.

The GOP’s popularity has rebounded in recent months because of the health care law’s troubled rollout and Republican leaders were eager to protect those gains and keep the nation’s focus on Obamacare, which has hurt Democrats politically in key swing states.

"Since the House GOP would unlikely achieve any concessions from President Obama, it was smart politically by Speaker Boehner to keep the focus on Obamacare and not create another government shutdown atmosphere,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former top House and Senate aide.

Senate Republicans appeared resigned to the plan, though some said they were frustrated that House Republicans didn’t fight for budget cuts or other concessions as part of the deal, considering how far the GOP went to extract concessions in the October budget battle.

“We have gone from one extreme to the other,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner