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October 12, 2021 10:15 PM, EDT

House Sends Debt Limit Hike to Biden, Staving Off Default

Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) looks over the final version of the bill to increase the debt limit Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) looks over the final version of the bill to increase the debt limit. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

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WASHINGTON — Members of the House on Oct. 12 pushed through a short-term increase to the nation’s debt limit, ensuring the federal government can continue fully paying its bills into December and temporarily averting an unprecedented default that would have decimated the economy.

The $480 billion increase in the country’s borrowing ceiling cleared the Senate last week on a party-line vote. The House approved it swiftly so President Joe Biden can sign it into law this week. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that steps to stave off a default on the country’s debts would be exhausted by Oct. 18, and from that point, the department soon would be unable to fully meet the government’s financial obligations.

A default would have immense fallout on global financial markets built upon the bedrock safety of U.S. government debt. Routine government payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and active-duty military personnel also would be called into question.

The relief provided by passage of the legislation will only be temporary though, forcing Congress to revisit the issue in December — a time when lawmakers also will be laboring to complete federal spending bills and avoid a damaging government shutdown. The yearend backlog raises risks for both parties and threatens a tumultuous close to Biden’s first year in office.

“I’m glad that this at least allows us to prevent a totally self-made and utterly preventable economic catastrophe as we work on a longer-term plan,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Republicans signaled the next debt limit debate won’t be any easier and warned Democrats not to expect their help.

“Unless and until Democrats give up on their dream of a big-government, socialist America, Republicans cannot and will not support raising the debt limit and help them pave the superhighway to a great entitlement society,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Procedurally, the House took a single vote that had the effect of passing the Senate bill. The measure passed by a party-line vote of 219-206.

The current debt ceiling is $28.4 trillion. Both parties have contributed to that load with decisions that have left the government rarely operating in the black.

The calamitous ramifications of default are why lawmakers have been able to reach a compromise to lift or suspend the debt cap some 18 times since 2002, often after frequent rounds of brinkmanship.

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