U.S. Senate to speed up debt limit vote ahead of winter storm

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 12, 2014 12:40pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate could approve a one-year extension of the U.S. debt limit by mid-afternoon on Wednesday after Republicans and Democrats agreed to shorten debate time ahead of an approaching snowstorm, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The Democratic-controlled Senate at 1:45 p.m. (1845 GMT) will take a procedural vote on the "clean" debt ceiling hike passed on Tuesday by the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold the majority.

Should the legislation receive the required 60 votes to advance, the Senate will move immediately to a final vote on the measure, said Reid, a Democrat. The vote would likely occur between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Senate passage this week would buy financial markets considerable breathing room before Feb. 27, when the U.S. Treasury expects to exhaust existing borrowing capacity, putting federal payments at risk.

Without an increase in the statutory debt limit, the U.S. government would soon default on some of its obligations and have to shut down some programs, a historic move that would likely cause market turmoil.

President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats have demanded that the debt ceiling be raised without any conditions.

But Republican Senator Ted Cruz, whose influence helped push Congress into a government shutdown last October, said late on Tuesday that he would object to a simple-majority vote on the debt limit because he wanted to attach "meaningful conditions" that would help reduce deficits.

Normally, this type of objection would stretch the process out for a couple of days, but senators agreed to waive the required debate time.

Many lawmakers want to leave Washington for a holiday recess before a snowstorm hits the region on Wednesday evening. The National Weather Service has forecast four to eight inches (10 to 20 cm) of snow for the area by late Thursday afternoon.