After a dramatic filibuster showdown, the Senate approved a bill to raise the nation’s debt limit, sending the measure to President Barack Obama for his approval.
The party-line vote, considered a foregone conclusion, was almost an afterthought, and almost didn’t happen. Although Senate Republicans didn’t have the votes to kill the measure, which the House passed yesterday with the support of many but not all Republicans, the party’s conservative members made a power play to delay the Senate vote and make a point.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tried to force a filibuster but instead forced several, more moderate members of his party’s leadership to stand with Democrats to move the bill forward. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, both voted to kill the filibuster, a move that could get them in trouble with Tea Party supporters at home. The vote could be particularly troublesome for McConnell, who faces a tough challenge from Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin in a May primary. Twelve Senate Republicans eventually joined Democrats to push the bill to a vote.
“A lot of people stepped up and did what they needed to do,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Cruz, a staunch fiscal conservative and Tea Party favorite who is less popular with some of his GOP colleagues, was unapologetic after the measure passed. “In my view, every Republican should stand together against raising the debt ceiling without meaningful structural reforms to rein in our out of control spending,” he said, adding later that the Senate had given the president a blank check.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the government would hit its spending limit again on Feb. 27. The national debt already stands at nearly $17.3 trillion—more than $140,000 for every American household. The legislation passed this week will allow the Treasury Department to borrow normally for another 13 months and then reset the government’s borrowing cap, forcing the issue back to Congress.
Although some Senate Republicans voted to allow the debt limit increase vote, they’re still not happy about it.
“We need some reform before we raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and a top Republican on the Budget Committee. “We need to demonstrate that we are taking steps that will reduce the accumulation of debt in the future. And the president and the Democratic Senate have just flatly refused. So they’ve just said, ‘We’ll accept no restraint on spending.’”