HomeGlob NewsDefense spending levels threaten to delay Senate plan to fast-track debt ceiling...

Defense spending levels threaten to delay Senate plan to fast-track debt ceiling bill

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference following Senate Democrat policy luncheons at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on May 31, 2023.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Demands by Republican senators for more defense funding threatened to delay Majority Leader Chuck Schumer‘s plan Thursday to fast-track a bill to raise the debt limit, as the U.S. barreled toward a June 5 deadline to avert a default.

“Nobody wants to default … But I’m tired of having default over my head as a reason to neuter the military at a time we need it the most,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on the Senate floor, where he railed against a bill the House passed with broad bipartisan support late Wednesday.

Under that bill, defense spending in 2024 would be capped at $886 billion, an annual increase of 3%. The following year, the budget would keep the increases to 1%, for a total of roughly $895 billion.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called that figure “woefully inadequate,” and demanded that Schumer agree to pass an emergency defense supplemental funding bill to make up for it.

“Bottom line, folks — we’re not leaving until we get a path to fix this problem,” said Graham.

Schumer, for his part, has also pledged to keep the Senate in session.

“Until we send a bill avoiding default to President Biden’s desk, we will keep working until the job is done,” he said on the Senate floor at the opening of Thursday’s session. “Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent a default.”

The Fiscal Responsibility Act was passed in the Republican-majority House late Wednesday night by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, sending it to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which met Thursday and planned to take up the bill.

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In order to fast-track a bill through the chamber and vote on it before Monday, all 100 senators must agree to the plan, and give their “unanimous consent” for the bill to bypass the notoriously slow Senate procedures.

Herein lies the challenge: In addition to Collins and Graham and GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, all of whom spoke in oppositions to the defense funding levels, there were at least three more senators, Utah Republican Mike Lee, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who also said they had serious objections to specific parts of the bill.

On Thursday, Kaine introduced an amendment that would strip the House bill of a last-minute provision that all but guaranteed the approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial natural gas pipeline project through West Virginia and Virginia.

Lee also proposed an amendment, to remove a line in the House bill that would allow the director of the Office of Management and Budget to unilaterally waive some spending restrictions on federal regulators if they determined that the spending was needed for “effective program delivery.”

In a typical Senate process, members would be expected to slow down Senate deliberations on the bill, propose their amendments to it, try to get those amendments passed by a vote and added to the bill, and if they succeed, send the amended bill back to the House for another vote.

But with just days to go before the June 5 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at which point the United States would likely be unable to meet its debt obligations, Schumer made it clear on Wednesday the bill could not move backward.

“We can’t send anything back to the House,” he told reporters in the Capitol. “That would risk default, plain and simple.”

If the Treasury were to fail to meet its obligations, economists agree that it would likely send global markets into shock, trigger job losses in the U.S. and jeopardize the delivery of vital government benefits that tens of millions of Americans rely on to survive.

So what’s the solution? As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained Wednesday, senators who want to propose amendments will be allowed to do so, as long as the amendments are doomed to fail.

In exchange for giving their amendments a separate vote, McConnell hopes holdouts will agree to proceed with a full Senate vote on the debt ceiling bill before the weekend.

“I can tell you what I hope happens, is that those who have amendments, if given votes, will yield back time, so that we can finish this Thursday or Friday,” McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday.

Passing the debt limit compromise bill and sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature would “soothe the country and soothe the markets,” McConnell said.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the result of a deal reached between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Biden, which essentially handed conservatives several ideological policy victories in exchange for their votes to raise the debt ceiling beyond next year’s presidential election and into 2025.

The bill passed in the House 314-117, with support from more Democrats than Republicans.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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