By Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate will stay in session until it passes a bill to lift the government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday, as some members pushed him to allow amendment votes that risks delaying the process.
The chamber has just four days left to pass the measure — which would suspend the debt limit through Jan. 1, 2025 — and send it to President Joe Biden to sign, averting a catastrophic default.
“We will keep working until the job is done,” Schumer said in a floor speech.
Schumer and his Republican counterpart Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to do all they could to speed along the bill negotiated by Biden and Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which would suspend the debt limit, essentially temporarily removing it, in exchange for a cap on spending.
It remained to be seen whether any members of their respective caucuses, particularly hardline Republicans angry the bill did not include deeper spending cuts, would use the Senate’s arcane rules to try to slow down its passage.
Some members were pushing Schumer to allow some votes on amendments to the bill, in exchange for allowing the overall package to pass more quickly. That is a common maneuver in the Senate but one that is not without risk, as if any of the amendments were to succeed, the bill would have to go back to the House.
There is little time for that as the Treasury Department warned it will be unable to pay all its bills on June 5 if Congress fails to act.
‘TIME IS A LUXURY’
The Republican-controlled House passed the bill on Wednesday evening in a 314-117 vote. McCarthy lost the support of dozens of his fellow Republicans.
“Time is a luxury the Senate does not have,” Schumer said on Thursday. “Any needless delay or any last-minute holdups would be an unnecessary and even dangerous risk.”
Biden’s Democrats control the Senate by a thin 51-49 margin. The chamber’s rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation, meaning at least nine Republican votes are needed to pass most bills, including the debt ceiling deal.
Typically on important, contentious bills such as this one, the two Senate leaders find a way to allow just a couple rebelling senators from each party to offer amendments under fast-track procedures, knowing they will lack the votes for passage.
Republicans are considering several amendments on defense-related issues alone, most of which would have a 50-vote threshold, said Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican.
A 50-vote threshold, rather than the chamber’s usual 60, could increase the odds that the Senate might alter the House bill, requiring it to return to the House for yet another vote before heading to Biden’s desk.
“There’ll be several on defense,” said Thune.
One of the Republican senators pushing for amendments, said he believed there was still a path for a full floor vote on Thursday.
“They’re trying to do it today,” said the senator, Mike Lee, whose amendment if passed would prevent the White House opting out of a requirement in the bill to offset new spending with cuts elsewhere.
“I want all of my colleagues who want an amendment vote – Republican or Democrat – to get a vote,” Lee said.
The bill was cobbled together over weeks of intensive negotiations between surrogates for Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The main argument was over spending for the next couple years on “discretionary” programs, such as housing, education and medical research that Republicans wanted to cut deeply while seeking increases in funding for the military, veterans and possibly border security.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates would save $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That is below the $4.8 trillion in savings that Republicans aimed for in a bill they passed through the House in April, and also below the $3 trillion in deficit that Biden’s proposed budget would have reduced the deficit over that time through new taxes.
The last time the United States came this close to default was in 2011. That standoff hammered financial markets, led to the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating and pushed up the nation’s borrowing costs.`
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)
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