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House passes debt ceiling suspension as standoff with GOP deepens

The Hill logo The Hill 9/29/2021 Sylvan Lane
a group of people standing next to a person wearing a suit and tie: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrives for press a press conference on Friday, September 24, 2021 to discuss the Women's Health Protection Act prior to the vote. © Greg Nash Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrives for press a press conference on Friday, September 24, 2021 to discuss the Women's Health Protection Act prior to the vote.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to suspend the federal debt limit largely along party lines amid a deepening standoff with Senate Republicans over the country's immediate fiscal future.

Lawmakers voted 219-212 to approve a bill that would suspend the federal debt limit through Dec. 17, 2022, with roughly three weeks until the U.S. is on track to default on the national debt.

Democratic Reps. Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Jared Golden (Maine) voted against the bill, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) was the sole GOP vote in favor of the measure.

"Democrats are for the people and will never let the full faith and credit of the United States be questioned - because we took an oath to the Constitution of the United States, and that is an oath that we always intend to uphold," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a speech before the vote.

"And, because we have a responsibility to the health and well-being of America's working families, and this would have a disastrous effect on them."

The House's vote is the latest volley in a dangerous showdown between Democrats and Republicans over who bears responsibility for preventing a potential economic disaster.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it will almost certainly be blocked by Republicans. GOP senators have vowed to oppose any increase or suspension of the debt limit and already blocked two separate Democratic measures to stave off a default this week.

The Treasury Department is expected to run out of ways to avert a default on Oct. 18 if Congress does not send a debt limit increase to President Biden. Raising or suspending the debt limit does not increase the size of the national debt directly, but allows the Treasury to generate more cash to pay off obligations already approved over several decades.

With Republicans unwilling to pass the latest House measure, a handful of moderate House Democrats - including Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Schrader and Golden - threatened to vote against another debt limit increase over fears it could be used against them during the 2022 election.

That threat prompted outrage from Pelosi, who warned Wednesday she had "no patience" for Democratic objections to a must-pass bill.

"We cannot predicate our actions in the House on what could happen in the Senate," Pelosi told reporters Wednesday morning.

"We can when we're coming to agreement on a bill," she continued, "But in terms of this, I have no patience for people not voting for this."

Pelosi, however, appeared to win over enough moderate holdouts hours before the vote with a commitment to hold a vote on a bill from Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) that would establish annual joint hearings on the national debt.

"Our skyrocketing national debt is alarming to so many of our constituents, and it's past time for Congress to acknowledge the severity of our situation and begin to address it," said Murphy, a leader of the Blue Dog caucus of conservative House Democrats, in a statement.

"I strongly urge leadership to keep their end of the bargain and put this bill on the floor once we have moved [past] our current debt ceiling crisis."

Spokespeople for Pelosi, Rice and Murphy did not respond to questions about the parameters of the deal.

While Pelosi was able to prevent an embarrassing setback for her party, Democratic leaders are still scrambling to find a way to raise the debt ceiling with Republicans holding strong against their efforts.

Republicans are attempting to force Democrats to raise the debt ceiling through the budget reconciliation process, the vehicle for President Biden's multitrillion-dollar social services and climate bill, as a means of disrupting the Democratic agenda.

"I agree that Congress should not play political games with the debt ceiling or ignore the danger of making permanent the temporary COVID relief with spending that will bankrupt our nation in the future," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, in a speech before the vote.

"Democrats control everything - the House, the Senate, and the presidency. And they can easily pass the debt ceiling by including it in their $5 trillion tax hikes and welfare state expansion - which requires no Republican votes."

Adding a debt ceiling increase to the budget resolution would allow Democrats to keep the country solvent with simple majorities in both chambers, and budget experts say the process could be completed before the U.S. runs out of cash.

Even so, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that Democrats "cannot and will not" use budget reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling.

"Now in solving this crisis, this body cannot and will not go through a drawn-out, unpredictable process sought by the minority leader. ... To do this through reconciliation requires ping-ponging separate bills back from the Senate and the House," Schumer said.

"It's uncharted waters," he added.

Schumer did not say how Democrats plan to raise the debt ceiling with both time and options dwindling.

--Updated at 6:16 p.m.

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