Suspension of US debt limit wins final congressional approval
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A bill allowing the US government to keep borrowing money for at least a few more months, beyond its record $16.4 trillion debt limit, won final congressional approval on Thursday, clearing the way for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
The Democratic-led Senate passed the bill, 64-34, a week after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved it, 285-144. Both votes were bipartisan.
The legislation would put off until at least May 19 a showdown over the debt limit between Republicans, who demand more spending cuts to shrink deficits, and Democrats, who favor reducing deficits with a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined 32 fellow Republicans and one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, in voting no. Twelve Republicans, 50 Democrats and two independents voted yes.
McConnell opposed the bill because it did not contain spending cuts, spokesman John Ashbrook said. "What's needed now is a long-term solution to Washington's out-of-control spending and debt," Ashbrook said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said passage of the bill shows Washington will not engage "in another irresponsible debate about whether the United States government should pay its bills."
Drafted by House Republican leaders, the bill marks a major retreat from their vow to use the debt limit to extract more spending cuts. A fight over the debt limit in August 2011 led to a downgrade in the US government's credit rating and sent markets tumbling.
By suspending enforcement of the debt limit, expected to be reached as early as mid-February, the government would keep borrowing money and paying its bills until at least May 19, when the limit would again be enforced.
Under the bill, the debt limit would have to be reset on May 19 to whatever level the debt reaches by then, likely about $17 trillion.