Senate votes to raise federal debt limit by $290 billion

Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, left, was the only Democrat to vote against increasing the government's debt limit.
Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, left, was the only Democrat to vote against increasing the government's debt limit. (Melina Mara//the Washington Post)
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By associated press
Friday, December 25, 2009

The Senate voted primarily along party lines Thursday to increase how much the government can be in debt.

Senators voted 60 to 39 to raise the federal debt ceiling by $290 billion, to $12.4 trillion. That will be enough, once President Obama signs the measure into law, to allow the Treasury Department to borrow money to fund government operations and programs until mid-February.

The Senate will return to the issue when it reconvenes in January.

Democrats voted to raise the limit and Republicans voted against doing so, with one defection on each side, Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

"I would not support raising the debt ceiling because Congress has not adopted a credible process to restrain spending and eliminate red ink," Bayh said a statement after the vote.

The current debt ceiling is $12.1 trillion and is set to be reached by Dec. 31. The government piled up a record $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 to counter a meltdown in financial markets and help bring the nation out of its worst recession in seven decades.

With the exception of Voinovich, Republicans uniformly derided the bill, though they routinely supplied votes for eight previous increases totaling $5.4 trillion under President George W. Bush.

Voinovich, who is retiring next year, said he voted "yes" after Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to consider amendments when the Senate takes up the matter again.

Democrats had originally planned to pass an unprecedented increase of almost $2 trillion to avoid another vote before next year's midterm elections.

But that plan fell apart amid opposition from about a dozen Senate Democratic moderates, who refuse to support a debt-limit increase unless it is accompanied by legislation to establish a new bipartisan task force to come up with a plan to curb the deficit. That idea is opposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders.

Pelosi, meanwhile, is supporting demands of moderate House Democrats, who are demanding a "pay-as-you-go" budget law aimed at ensuring that new tax cuts or new spending programs don't increase deficits in exchange for their votes for the next debt increase.

The Senate is generally opposed to the idea, even though it was the law of the land for more than a decade.

Battles over those issues and others, such as a vote on a GOP proposal to end the Wall Street bailout program, are expected to resume during January's debate.

Thursday's debt limit measure and the larger version looming in January require a supermajority of 60 votes to pass. Democrats control the chamber with 60 votes, which could require all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to vote for it, including several members who are politically endangered.

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