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Deal Reached to Hike Debt     12/08 06:52


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional leaders reached an elaborate deal Tuesday 
that will allow Democrats to lift the nation's debt limit without any votes 
from Republicans, likely averting another last-minute rush to avoid a federal 
default. Hours later, the House passed legislation overwhelmingly along party 
lines that kicked off a multi-step process.

   Congress approved a $480 billion increase in the nation's debt limit in 
October. That's enough for the Treasury to finance the government's operations 
through Dec. 15, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's projection.

   But Republicans have warned they won't vote for any future debt ceiling 
increase to ensure the federal government can meet its financial obligations, 
and instead, the politically unpopular measure would have to be passed entirely 
by the Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress.

   President Joe Biden had called on Republicans to "get out of the way" if 
they won't help Democrats shoulder the debt responsibility. But rather than 
step aside and allow for a quick vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell 
has helped engineer an unusual legislative process that will play out over the 
next several days. Donald Trump, the former president, ridiculed McConnell for 
allowing any action, showing just how politically toxic the routine act of 
paying the nation's bills has become.

   "I think this is in the best interest of the country," said McConnell, R-Ky. 
"I think it is also in the best interest of Republicans, who feel very strongly 
that the previous debt ceilings we agreed to when President Trump was here 
carried us through August. And this current debt ceiling is indeed about the 
future and not about the past."

   The agreement spelled out in the House bill passed Tuesday establishes the 
days-long process ahead. In short, it would tuck a provision to fast-track the 
debt limit process into an unrelated Medicare bill that will prevent payment 
cuts to doctors and other health care providers. That measure passed the House 
by a vote of 222-212 with only Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, 
siding with Democrats in voting for the measure.

   "House Republicans can't support using patients and access to local doctors 
as leverage to increase the national debt on our children," said Rep. Kevin 
Brady, R-Texas.

   The measure now goes to the Senate, and if the Medicare bill becomes law, it 
will open the process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling through 
subsequent legislation with a Democrats' only majority vote.

   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., struck an optimistic note that 
the debt ceiling plan will pass.

   "This is a very good outcome for the American people. We will avoid default, 
which would have been disastrous. Democrats have always said that we were 
willing to shoulder the load at 50 votes to get this done as long it was not a 
convoluted or risky process, and Leader McConnell and I have achieved that."

   Key to the agreement is that Democrats will have to vote on a specific 
amount by which the debt ceiling would be lifted. The amount has not yet been 
disclosed, but it is sure to be a staggering sum. Republicans want to try to 
blame Democrats for the nation's rising debt load and link it to Biden's $1.85 
trillion social and environmental bill.

   "To have Democrats raise the debt ceiling and be held politically 
accountable for racking up more debt is my goal, and this helps us accomplish 
that," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

   The increase in the debt ceiling, however, is needed to meet financial 
obligations accrued by both parties under past legislation. The vast majority 
of it predates Biden's presidency.

   "This is about meeting obligations that the government has already incurred, 
largely during the Trump Administration," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a 
letter to Democratic colleagues. "Only three percent of the current debt has 
been accrued under President Biden."

   Pelosi said that addressing the debt limit will prevent a drastic increase 
in interest rates for car loans, student debt, mortgages and other types of 
borrowing for Americans.

   The legislation before the House on Tuesday establishes a fast-track process 
for the days ahead. A subsequent vote will be needed to pass the debt ceiling 
increase itself. Once the Senate has done so, the House will take up the bill 
and send it to Biden to be signed into law.

   At their private luncheon Thursday, Republican senators sounded off against 
the plan. Many of them will not support it.

   Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of GOP leadership, said the lunch discussion 
went about as would be expected -- though he said the plan at least allows 
Republicans to achieve their goal of forcing Democrats to vote on their own to 
raise the debt ceiling by a specific amount.

   The parliamentary machinations struck some House lawmakers as an "absurd" 
but necessary way to deal with the Senate, where the filibuster rules allow the 
Republican minority to block action.

   "We're tying ourselves into parliamentary contortions to try to help the 
Senate deal with this straitjacket they have put themselves into," Rep. Jamie 
Raskin, D-Md., said.

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