Congress China

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives at the Capitol in Washington, on May 3. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders are working to tamp down any chance of last-minute issues in their ranks as Congress races to pass a debt ceiling suspension bill ahead of a Monday deadline.

The House passed the bipartisan legislation late Wednesday night, giving the Senate just a few days to act on it before the government won’t have enough money to pay its bills. Neither Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., nor Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave any indication passage was in jeopardy, but rather stressed Wednesday that time was of the essence.

“Either we proceed quickly and send this bipartisan agreement to the president’s desk or the federal government will default for the first time ever,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor. “We’re getting close to finally putting the threat of default behind us, but there’s more work to do.”

But even before the House’s approval, liberal and conservative senators both had started raising concerns over aspects of the legislation. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that he planned to oppose the debt limit deal, saying he couldn’t “in good conscience” support it. And at least two Republican senators suggested they would be asking for amendment votes that may slow down the legislation’s path to final passage.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., indicated that he’s willing to allow the deal to move through the Senate at a faster rate in exchange for a vote on his amendment, which would cut total federal spending by 5 percent a year. And Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told reporters he doesn’t “have any desire to hold [the legislation] up for the sake of holding it up.” But he plans to also propose his own amendments, though he didn’t offer any details about them.

In a positive sign for the deal’s prospects in the Senate, however, McConnell’s leadership team was unified in their support of the compromise legislation. After the weekly Republican caucus lunch, some senators expressed hesitation about the bill but said the spending provisions marked a major turning point.


“This is a first step,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the Senate Republican Conference chairman and one of McConnell’s most conservative deputies.

The House’s passage of the bipartisan debt limit deal comes after months of uncertainty and marked a rare instance in the Biden presidency where the House essentially forced the Senate to take up its deal with the White House. The agreement between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suspends the debt ceiling and puts limits on some spending for the next two years. It also pares back money designated for the IRS, increases spending for the military and veterans affairs in line with inflation, and increases work requirements for certain recipients of federal food stamps and welfare.

To avoid a default on the debt Monday, senators will first need to come to some type of time agreement, which would govern how long the bill can be debated and requires unanimous consent from all senators. The more amendment votes that occur, the longer final passage will take. And any changes to a House-passed bill in the Senate would mean the House would have to take the legislation up again, which would almost certainly mean blowing past the Monday deadline. Possible amendments are widely expected to be required to pass a 60-vote threshold, essentially guaranteeing that they would largely be symbolic.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Republican leader, said the deal could move “fairly quickly” if a time agreement is reached.

“I think most, if not all, believe that it’s in our best interest to not tempt fate and to get this done in accordance with the timelines that have been laid out,” Thune said.

What a time agreement looks like and which amendments would receive a vote, however, wasn’t clear Wednesday afternoon. During the GOP lunch, some foreign policy hawks expressed dissatisfaction with the level of defense spending in the legislation, according to two attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail internal discussions, and some Republicans said they had questions about a provision that would enact a short-term funding bill for the remainder of the fiscal year with a 1 percent cut if all 12 appropriations bills aren’t signed by Jan. 1.


Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she remains “very concerned” about the short-term funding provision and wants a “commitment from Senator Schumer that he’s going to bring each of those appropriations bills to the Senate floor.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined at left by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., at the Capitol in Washington in Nov. 2022. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press, file

On the Democratic side, Sen. Tim Kaine, Va., plans to file an amendment to remove a provision that expedites the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a major natural gas pipeline that would run from West Virginia to Virginia. The pipeline is a top priority for Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“If they’re going to put something in about Virginia that I think is a bad idea without talking to me, then I ought to be able to stand up for Virginians and have a vote on it,” Kaine said, without indicating whether he’ll support final passage of the legislation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said earlier this week that the deal “rewards the hostage taking that the Republicans have gotten so damn good at.” She has not said how she’ll vote. And Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said he has “enormous concerns” about the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision.

Despite those concerns, several senators indicated that the bipartisan debt limit deal is merely a reality of divided government.

“There are people for whom compromise is just never an option and they’ll make a bunch of noise,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who plans to support the deal. “I suspect about half of the people that vote no will be hoping like hell it passes.”


The Washington Post’s Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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