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Senate Vote: 33     Vote Date: Feb 12th, 2014

Issue:  S. 540 Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act.  An act to temporarily extend the public debt limit, and for other purposes.  (Coopted S. 540 was originally a bill to designate the air route traffic control center located in Nashua, New Hampshire, as the “Patricia Clark Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center.”)  Question:  On the Cloture Motion (3/5 required). 

Result:  Agreed to 67 to 31, 2 not voting. Became Public Law No: 113-83 (signed by the president, 2-15-14). GOP and Democrat selected vote.

Bill Summary: This measure suspends the debt limit through March 15, 2015 and will set a new limit the following day based on debt increases due to normal borrowing.

Analysis: Last October (2013), Congress suspended the debt limit, then at $16.7 trillion, until February 7 of 2014, as part of the agreement to end the partial federal shutdown. On February 8, the debt limit was reset to $17.3 trillion. As expected, continued deficit spending immediately pushed the Treasury toward default, and Congress was confronted with administration demands to suspend (or raise) the debt limit once more.

And Congress agreed. However, Congress chose the ending date for this latest temporary suspension of the debt limit to fall well after the November elections, thus passing the buck to a newly elected Congress to bring federal spending under control or to raise the debt ceiling again.

President Obama had long taken the stand that he would not “bargain” for an increase in borrowing authority, insisting that the increase should be automatic, since it was necessary to finance spending already approved by prior Congresses.   House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed the line: “The full faith and credit (of the United States) should be unquestioned and it is not negotiable.”

Never mind that the spending demands of President Obama himself had contributed to huge deficits, as had the agendas of prior presidents and prior Congresses. Responsible legislators must press for corrective action whenever they have the will and opportunity to do so and before economic reality completely destroys American prosperity and “the full faith and credit (of the United States).”

A “Clean” Debt-Limit Bill

The House acted first to approve S. 540, suspending the debt limit and preventing default.   In the days leading up to the vote, House Speaker John Boehner tried unsuccessfully to find enough GOP support for a debt-ceiling bill sweetened with any of several face-saving concessions to be demanded of the Senate and the president.

So the GOP leadership decided to put forward a “clean,” no-strings-attached debt-ceiling bill that would garner Democratic support.   Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi immediately applauded the GOP decision.

On February 11, the measure, which would suspend the limit for more than a year passed the House by a vote of 221 to 201. Relying on Democrats to carry the ball, only 28 House Republicans voted in favor of the suspension.

Drama in the Senate

The Senate approved the measure the following day, but not without drama. With the mid-term elections facing many, Senate Republicans had hoped to vote unanimously against the debt increase, allowing the Democrats to pass the measure on a strictly majority (51) vote. However, Texas Senator Ted Cruz put his fellow Republicans on the hot seat by insisting on a filibuster, requiring 60 votes to overcome.

So some of the Republicans who really wanted the bill to pass but did not want to go on record voting for it would have to step forward and vote to end debate. Who would they be?   The cliffhanger ended when Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn took the lead in voting with the Democrats.

McConnell and Cornyn were joined by 10 other GOP senators: John Barrasso of Wyoming, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John Thune of South Dakota.

Following the 67 to 31 vote to end debate, the same 12 Republicans lined up to vote against passage, so they could all posture as opponents. The vote on final passage went strictly along party lines: 55 in favor to 43 against, with 2 not voting.   Here FFS scores the Senate on its votes to end debate, not the vote on final passage.

Speaking on conservative talk-radio later, Ted Cruz claimed that many Republicans were unhappy that they had to help the Democrats meet the 60-vote threshold to end debate:

“An awful lot of the Republicans wanted exactly what Barack Obama wanted … which was to raise the debt ceiling [without reining in spending], but they wanted to be able to tell what they view as their foolish, gullible constituents back [home] they didn’t do it and they’re mad because by [my] refusing to consent to that they had to come out in the open and admit what they are doing and nothing upsets them more.”

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)