By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder
WASHINGTON Feb 12 The U.S. Congress approved an
increase in the country's debt limit through March 2015, bowing
to President Barack Obama's demands for a debt limit increase
without any conditions, but only after a dramatic Senate vote on
Final action in the Senate followed an hourlong nail-biting
procedural tally forced by the objections of Republican Ted
Cruz, a conservative Tea Party favorite. It appeared at first
there would not be enough Republicans to join the Democratic
majority and advance the bill.
A decision by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, who are both up for
re-election this year, to vote to advance the measure appeared
to kick the procedural tally over the needed 60 votes.
After a few more tense minutes of huddling on the Senate
floor, several other Republicans changed their votes to follow
their leadership. In the end, 12 Republicans joined Democrats in
advancing the bill, on a vote of 67-31.
The measure, which then passed the Senate on a final,
party-line vote of 55-43, now goes to Obama to be signed into
The House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a
majority, passed the measure in a close vote a day earlier,
after Republicans dropped the confrontational tactics they had
used in similar votes over the past three years.
The advance of the measure this week has brought relief to
financial markets. Investors were becoming increasingly jittery
ahead of Feb. 27. The U.S. Treasury has been warning that its
borrowing authority would be exhausted by then, 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 have
likely caused severe market turmoil.
Reaction in most financial markets to the drama on the
Senate floor was muted, with U.S. stocks holding near the
unchanged mark on the day and most U.S. Treasury debt prices
remaining modestly lower for the session.
But there was visible relief in the short-term interest rate
market. The rate on the one-month Treasury Bill,
which had jumped in the past week on concern over a protracted
showdown over raising the debt ceiling, dropped to its lowest in
three weeks, ending the day at just 0.01 percent.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement that
Congress' action would boost economic growth by making
businesses and investors more confident.
CRUZ WANTED CONDITIONS ON DEBT CEILING
Obama and his fellow Democrats have demanded that the debt
ceiling be raised without any conditions.
But Republican Cruz, whose influence helped push Congress
into a government shutdown last October, objected to a
simple-majority vote on the debt limit because he wanted to
attach "meaningful conditions" that would help reduce U.S.
Because of an approaching snowstorm, senators agreed to
waive the required debate time and hold the procedural vote on
Wednesday, with the final vote immediately following it.
After the results were in, some Republicans said their party
was furious with Cruz for forcing a number of them to cast votes
that could open them up to attacks from Tea Party conservatives
opposed to any debt limit increase whatsoever.
"He accomplished nothing except forcing a number of
Republicans to swallow hard and show some courage," one aide
Both McConnell and Cornyn face conservative opposition in
upcoming primary elections. McConnell's primary opponent Matt
Bevin wasted no time in putting out a statement denouncing the
senator's move, saying "Kentucky deserves a senator that will
not keep voting to suffocate our children and grandchildren with
trillions of dollars in debt."
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee
founded by ex-Senator Jim DeMint, also hit McConnell, tweeting
that "Mitch McConnell just voted with the Democrats to advance
yet another debt limit increase. Kentucky deserves better."
Cruz, who is from Texas, made no apologies for his maneuver
and said failure of the procedural vote would have presented an
opportunity to address Washington's spending problems.
"The next step would have been, I believe, that we would
have come together to work on meaningful structural reforms to
address the out-of-control spending," Cruz told reporters.
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who cast a "yes"
on the procedural vote, told reporters that after McConnell had
voted "yes," discussions took place on the Senate floor and then
other Republicans stepped in to "help him out".
Republicans who switched their votes from "no" to "yes"
included Senator John McCain of Arizona, who joked later that
his shoulder had been dislocated in arm-twisting on the Senate
McCain said much of the discussion in the tense Republican
huddles focused on getting past the debt limit to issues where
Republicans could gain more political traction, such as
"Nobody persuades me," McCain said of his vote. "I just
thought it was the right thing to do."