Senate leaders reach agreement to quickly vote on debt deal

The Senate reached a deal to vote Thursday evening on the bipartisan debt ceiling and budget agreement, locking in plans to send the bill to the president’s desk well before the Monday default deadline.

In exchange, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to vote on 11 amendments that are expected to fail. They also entered a joint statement into the congressional record dealing with demands from defense hawks for a supplemental defense bill and processing the annual appropriations bills. Senate Republicans had spent Thursday smarting over defense spending levels they view as far too low.

Schumer read the statement on Thursday night, saying the “debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds” to counter China and Russia. He also said the bill does nothing to restrict emergency funds for disasters or fighting fentanyl.

The spending bills portion of the statement reads that the two leaders “share the concern of many of our colleagues about the potential impact of sequestration and we will work in a bipartisan, collaborative way to avoid this outcome” of an automatic spending cut if Congress passes a stopgap spending bill, according to a copy viewed by POLITICO. That refers to a portion of the debt bill that triggers a 1 percent cut to spending if funding bills are not passed by Jan. 1.

The statement also says that Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) will set spending levels for the 12 individual spending bills and the “leaders will seek and facilitate floor consideration of these bills with the cooperation of Senators of both parties.”

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  • Senate Minority Whip John Thune said the statement is “an attempt to help address some of the concerns our defense hawks have.”

    The timing agreement means the Senate is going to finish its work on the bill before the weekend and well before financial markets open on Friday morning. Senators immediately took to the floor after the deal was announced to start voting on amendments.

    “By passing this bill we will avoid default tonight. America can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said.

    That puts the bill back on track after defense hawks had thrown in some last-minute drama, demanding Thursday afternoon that Schumer commit to a standalone, supplemental defense spending bill, as well as pledge to take up all 12 annual appropriations bills as a condition for moving forward quickly. Without the agreement, which requires buy-in from all 100 senators, a vote on the debt deal could have pushed well into next week — past the default deadline.

    Graham and others worried the budget deal’s cap on defense spending could impede U.S. commitments to Ukraine and other allies absent a supplemental. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he wanted written assurances of a plan to include a supplemental with funding bills. Notably, Congress hasn’t passed all 12 appropriations bills on time since 1996.

    “We just want the commitment,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “We want a public statement that [Schumer] will in a timely fashion do the approps and the supplemental.”

    Still, the House’s whopping 314-117 vote to pass the debt limit deal created a sense of inevitability in the Senate, easing the path to an agreement that would allow the bill to pass quickly and head to President Joe Biden’s desk.

    Despite defections among liberal and conservative senators, the chamber is likely to put up similarly solid numbers in support of the deal, easily clearing the supermajority requirement. One example: Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who helped lead efforts to prod President Joe Biden to use the 14th Amendment to avoid a deal with the GOP, said Thursday she will support the bipartisan legislation.

    The legislation would raise the debt ceiling through 2024, install two years of budget caps, increase some work requirements on government benefits, rescind some IRS funding from Democrats’ party-line legislation last year and approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline from West Virginia into Virginia. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is not happy that the bill would force approval of that project, and is hoping for an amendment vote of his own that would strip out the pipeline provision.

    Despite the agreement to allow amendment votes in order to speed up passage, Schumer has been adamant that the Senate cannot make changes to the House bill at this late hour. Doing so would almost surely result in blowing through the Treasury Department’s Monday deadline.

    And every day could matter given the Treasury’s low coffers and the outside risk of damaging the country’s credit rating. In 2011 Standard & Poor’s downgraded the United States’ rating — after legislation raising the debt ceiling passed Congress.

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