WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Tuesday that would limit Senate debate on a separate debt ceiling increase bill to 10 hours, creating a temporary loophole in that chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster rules.
The bill, which would also delay scheduled cuts in Medicare and other programs, passed on a 222-212 vote. The measure is expected to get a Senate vote this week, completing the first of two steps lawmakers have decided will be needed to pass a debt limit bill this time around.
The legislative vehicle is an unrelated bill that previously passed both chambers with amendments, allowing Senate leaders to avoid a time-consuming motion to proceed in that chamber. Instead, only one cloture vote would be needed.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who briefed his caucus at lunch on Tuesday, blessed the arrangement in comments to reporters. He said the new debt limit measure could pass as early as Thursday.
"I’m confident that this particular procedure coupled with the avoidance of Medicare cuts will achieve enough Republican support to clear the 60-vote threshold," McConnell said.
The debt limit provision would allow Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to introduce a joint resolution, which has the force of law just like a bill, no later than Dec. 31, 2021, to increase the $28.9 trillion debt ceiling by an amount yet to be determined. It would then be automatically placed on the Senate calendar, and it would be in order to proceed to its consideration at any time through Jan. 15.
Debate on the measure would be limited to 10 hours, with no amendments. Motions to commit or to move on to other business would not be allowed. Then there would be a simple majority threshold for passage, or 51 votes if all senators are present.
The special procedure would be available for one time only, wouldn't be applicable to any other piece of legislation and would expire Jan. 16.
It wasn't yet clear when the debt limit measure would be introduced or taken up, or in what dollar amount it would be raised by. Some independent forecasts estimate it would take something like $2 trillion in additional borrowing authority to make it past the November 2022 midterm elections.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has urged lawmakers to act before Dec. 15 on the limit, after which she's said it's possible Treasury won't be able to meet all U.S. financial obligations on time. But she's also said there's a "high degree of confidence" that Treasury can make all of its required payments immediately after that date, and independent forecasters have said there may be a few more weeks of wiggle room if needed.