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Senate paves way for vote that would let Democrats raise the debt ceiling

In a unique solution to avoid a default on the country’s debt, the Senate approved a plan Thursday that would allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling without any support from the GOP.

The maneuver is part of a bipartisan deal among congressional leaders, allowing Senate Democrats to increase how much money the country can borrow and avoid a default on the nation’s debt without members of the GOP having to vote for the measure and face political scrutiny for doing so.

Allowing for a plan to pass the chamber with just 51 votes, the legislation provides a temporary exemption to the 60-vote threshold to pass a bill in the Senate. Following approval in the lower chamber on Tuesday, the Senate voted 59-35 to approve the legislation Thursday evening. The legislation is now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

Current government funding is set to expire Dec. 15, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, a deadline that pressured lawmakers to reach a compromise to keep government operations running.

Congress approved a $480 billion increase to the nation’s debt limit in October, but estimates put the now outstanding debt at $29 trillion.

The plan passed Thursday allows for a change to the vote threshold and requires Democrats to specify how much they need to raise the debt ceiling by — a number that remains unclear.

Another unique aspect to the legislation is that it was folded into a Medicare bill that prevents cuts in pay to health care providers, a mechanism for garnering support for the debt-vote plan.

Now that the Senate has approved the measure, both chambers of Congress will have to actually vote to increase the debt limit in the coming days.

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The deal between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat leaders to skirt the filibuster has thrown some criticism McConnell’s way, with the compromise marking a swift reverse on his previous assertions that Republicans would not cooperate on a long-term deal to confront the nation's debt.

But a handful of Senate Republicans joined with McConnell to advance the plan, which would avoid a devastating government default while still allowing GOP members ammunition to blame Democrats and Biden's recent $1.2 infrastructure deal for the nation’s debt.

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The Senate voted 64-36 to change rules for a vote to raise the debt ceiling on Nov. 9, 2021.