Senate Still Must Deal With Debt Limit Increase

by Carl Hulse
The New York Times
December 21, 2009

The Senate this week continues its march toward a Christmas Eve health care vote, leaving one big question hanging in the holiday air: Will the Senate have to come back next week to approve an increase in the federal debt limit?

Before the House left for its recess, members last Wednesday approved a $290 billion increase in federal borrowing power that Treasury says is needed by the end of the year to avoid a federal default and perhaps a shutdown of federal operations. The debt limit hike is the last bit of must-pass Congressional business.

But caught up as the Senate is in the health care fight, it is unclear senators will be able to get to the debt limit issue without meeting straight through Christmas – not a completely outlandish thought given the current circumstances.

In any event, Democrats need Republican cooperation if they want to quickly approve the debt limit measure sent over by the House. They are counting on Republicans being ready to leave at the end of the health care vote – now set for Christmas Eve – and willing to allow a debt limit increase to be sent to the White House with a single vote or even under an agreement.

Democrats note that the debt limit increase is only an interim step and the main debt limit fight will come early next year when Congress considers a more substantial hike.

But some Republicans do not want to let Democrats off easy. They would like to focus on the debt limit increase to try to remind the public about recent spending increases while forcing a vote on a proposal to create a bipartisan debt-reduction panel. If Democrats have to vote to raise it now and vote again in early February, so much the better from the Republican perspective.

If Republicans hold firm, Democrats say they will have no choice but to summon the Senate back for the week between Christmas and New Year’s to approve a debt limit increase rather than put federal credit at risk.

Evidently, these senators cannot get enough of one another’s company.

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