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Senate sends debt ceiling legislation to President Biden's desk with days to spare

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York walks to his office at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
Kevin Dietsch
Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York walks to his office at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

Updated June 1, 2023 at 10:55 PM ET

With just days to spare before the deadline for the nation to face financial default, the Senate approved compromise, bipartisan legislation to lift the debt ceiling. It cleared the chamber by a bipartisan 63-36 vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer celebrated an agreement by senators on Thursday to speed up consideration to send the bill to President Biden's desk.

"America can breathe a sigh of relief, a sigh of relief, because in this process, we are avoiding default," Schumer said ahead of a series of votes for the measure. "From the start, avoiding default has been our North Star."

The Senate spent much of the day trying to broker a deal among the chamber's 100 members to speed up the voting schedule. But along the way, Senate leaders maintained confidence the legislation would pass.

"I think we'll get there, but as you know, it's painful," Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters on Thursday.

Ultimately, leaders agreed to take up 11 amendments. However, Schumer warned none of the amendments could be adopted without raising the potential of default. All of them ultimately failed.

"Any change to this bill that forces us to send it back to the House would be entirely unacceptable. It would almost guarantee default," he said.

On Wednesday, the bill — the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023-- passed the House by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 314-117 vote.

The bill's opposition in the House, like in the Senate, resulted in strange bedfellows. Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders have spoken out against the plan.

The legislation includes new spending limits in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling for two years.

"I wanted to like this bill, I wanted to be able to vote for this bill," said Lee, who has said it falls short from addressing the national debt.

Sanders has argued the plan raises concerns about new threats to climate. Graham argued the legislation did not include sufficient funding for defense and Ukraine aid.

In an unusual step during the votes, Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky released a joint statement noting that the legislation cannot block future emergency supplemental funding, such as for national defense and aid to Ukraine.

"This debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate's ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries," Schumer said in additional remarks on the Senate floor, "and respond to ongoing and growing national security threats including Russia's evil ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine."

The debt ceiling legislation was the result of high-stakes negotiations between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy ahead of a debt default.

With his narrow control of the chamber, McCarthy saw the plan win support among majorities of both parties. And ultimately, Democrats played a larger role than Republicans in its passage: 165 Democrats joined 149 Republicans to approve the bill.

"The deal the House passed last night is a promising step toward fiscal sanity," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "But make no mistake: there is much more work to be done. The fight to reel in wasteful spending is far from over."

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Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.