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Senate stymies filibuster, OK’s debt limit increase

Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, walked to the Senate floor Wednesday for a vote on raising the debt ceiling. The legislation passed, largely along party lines.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders Wednesday rescued a measure to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, overcoming a filibuster from members of their own party and averting a potential shock to the economy.

A vote to cut off debate on the debt ceiling measure passed 67-31 after a dramatic scene on the floor when Republicans managed to muster 12 votes in support, clearing the way for final approval.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip, waited nearly a half-hour as their Republican colleagues refused to vote to end debate on the bill. When it was clear that the debt ceiling increase would fail, they stepped forward in tandem to deliver the deciding votes. Other Republicans followed by changing their votes.


The Senate then quickly voted to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, without any conditions, until March 2015, sending the legislation to President Obama to be signed. The passage ended the possibility of a calamitous debt default.

The 55-43 vote, largely along party lines, ended three years of fiscal brinkmanship in which the threat of a default hung over acrimonious debt ceiling negotiations and came a day after the Republican-controlled House passed the same legislation by relying almost entirely on Democratic votes.

The legislation required 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle and break a threatened filibuster after Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said he planned to object to any effort to raise the debt ceiling with a minimum of 51 votes. But he failed in his attempt to unite Senate Republicans to prevent the increase.

“In my view, every Republican should stand together against raising the debt ceiling without meaningful structural reform to rein in our out-of-control spending,” Cruz said Wednesday.

But Cruz’s high-profile gambit created the drama of the day.


Senate Republicans — unwilling to default on the nation’s debt but hoping to avoid voting for any debt ceiling increase — seethed at Cruz’s move, which many said was purely political and which forced them to scramble to produce at least five votes to end debate.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, simply smiled when asked if he was annoyed with Cruz’s filibuster threat. “We’re working to see what we can put together, but I don’t know yet how it’s going to go,” he said.

The vote Tuesday in the House, in which only 28 Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues to support the “clean” debt ceiling increase, was the first time since 2009 that other legislation was not attached to an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit.

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio was unable to rally his conference behind even a modest Republican policy proposal and in violation of his own “Boehner Rule” — which calls for any increase in the debt ceiling to be offset by an equal spending cut or budgetary changes — he ignored outside conservative groups and his party’s far right, passing the bill with Democratic support.