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Senate Democrats back automatic debt limit hikes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted along party lines Tuesday to reject a GOP effort that would have blocked the approved increase in the national debt limit.

The chamber voted 54-45 against the GOP move to try to use a special "disapproval" process to block that increase.

The move came as Senate Democrats proposed to avoid future showdowns over the so-called debt ceiling by giving the president authority to authorize additional federal borrowing unless Congress can muster veto-proof margins to block him.

The move by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is aimed at heading off future Washington confrontations over increasing the government's borrowing cap. Debt limit battles this fall and in 2011 spooked financial markets and took the government precariously close to a default on its obligations.

"It's time for us to put in place a straightforward process to avoid a catastrophic default on our nation's debt," Boxer said, adding that the legislation "sends a strong message of certainty to the markets, to our families and to the world."

The Democratic legislation is based on a proposal first unveiled by GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky during the 2011 debt limit battle. But McConnell weighed in against the Democratic plan even before it was unveiled, saying debt increases must be paired with spending cuts or other reforms.

The recently-passed debt limit measure included the mechanism under which the president proposes a debt increase that takes effect automatically unless Congress approves legislation to overturn the move. He could veto that legislation, however.

"Increases in the debt ceiling should be accompanied by reforms," McConnell said. "That's just what we did in 2011, when Congress raised the debt ceiling in return for enacting $2 trillion in bipartisan spending control."

McConnell is positioned to filibuster the measure if Democrats try to force a vote and the measure is a non-starter with the GOP-controlled House.

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