It’s finally here: the debt-ceiling deadline.
At midnight Tuesday, unless Congress acts, the United States will have exceeded its borrowing authority and will default on its debt obligations. Fortunately for the country, that doesn’t look likely to happen.
After months of negotiations, debate and recriminations, Congress on Tuesday is poised to pass a debt-limit compromise that will prevent default and achieve $2.1 trillion in deficit savings over the next ten years.
The House took the first step Monday night by passing the debt-limit compromise on a bipartisan 269-to161 vote. On Tuesday at noon, the measure is expected to pass the Senate, where it faces a 60-vote threshold for approval.
Following Tuesday’s vote, at around 12:30 p.m., Senate Democrats and Republicans are expected to hold their final caucus luncheons at the Capitol before heading home for a five-week recess. The House, meanwhile, holds only a pro-forma session on Tuesday, meaning that no legislative business is conducted.
After the Senate convened at 9:30 a.m., senators from both parties rose to speak in favor of the debt-ceiling agreement.
“Finally, Washington is taking some responsibility for spending money we don’t have,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Senate’s third-ranking Republican. “This is a change in behavior.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he, too, would back the debt-ceiling measure – although he expressed deep reservations about the bill.
Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said that he spoke Tuesday morning with Senate Chaplain Barry Black about a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that weighed on his mind throughout the debt-limit debate: “Conscience makes cowards of us all.”
“You’re told in life to follow your conscience,” Durbin said on the floor as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) presided. “Well, Madam President, on this matter, my conscience is conflicted.”
Durbin argued that the language of the bill “entirely discredits” the effort toward a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it does not outline what kind of amendment would come before Congress.
Invoking the name of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the longest-serving senator in U.S. history and a master of Senate procedure, Durbin also criticized the fact that the debt-ceiling measure prohibits members of Congress from proposing changes to the Constitutional amendment.
“(Byrd) would find it nothing short of outrageous that we are mandating a vote on a Constitutional amendment that is not even written,” Durbin said.
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