The Senate late last night officially received the debt ceiling bill after the House passed it with bipartisan support, putting the legislation on course to be passed by the upper chamber in the coming days.
However, several things need to be ironed out before it hits President Biden’s desk, even as the chamber is on a tight clock.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as lawmakers move toward greenlighting an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit to avoid a default next week.
How quickly will the bill move through the Senate?
The biggest — and most pressing — question surrounding the debt ceiling in the Senate is how quickly lawmakers can get it to Biden’s desk.
Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen has said the country would default June 5 without congressional action — so taking the bill through the regular process and into next week is a nonstarter with leaders of both parties.
After some early chatter that the Senate may need the weekend to complete its work, indications are that conservatives will not use all the tools in the toolbox to hold up final passage — despite Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) initial warning.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday said he believes the upper chamber could wrap up a time agreement, which is expected to include six amendments, with the lion’s share coming from Republicans.
“That’s the hope and the dream, at least,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said about the possibility of the Senate wrapping up its work by Friday. “That’s where yielding to a lot of amendment votes could get us that.”
Part of the impetus for striking a time agreement sooner rather than later is that senators have little appetite for spooking the markets when they open Monday, and they would like to avoid the government’s credit being downgraded, a step S&P took in 2011.
What amendment votes will leadership approve?
Sources indicated Wednesday that they expect the number of amendments to be in the neighborhood of six, though some cautioned that the number could always inch upward.
Most are being requested by conservative rabble-rousers. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants a vote on his alternative debt ceiling plan that would hike the debt limit for a shorter period of time and include budget cuts to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Paul told reporters he is well aware that his amendment would fail, but he wants a vote.
Lee warned last week that he would “use every procedural tool at my disposal” to hold up a deal that didn’t include “substantial spending and budgetary reforms.” However, while he has kept up his vociferous opposition to the bill, he says he is willing to yield back time.
The Utah conservative is expected to roll out a series of possible amendments today, a Lee spokesperson told The Hill, but indicated that he does not expect a vote on all of them.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told The Hill that he plans to offer an amendment that would put penalties in place if Congress doesn’t pass appropriations bills on time.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also called for multiple amendments — one that would increase military spending to get the U.S. back to inflation levels and another to include a statement of support for Ukraine. The bill includes no money for the war-torn nation.
While leaders are likely to agree to the other amendment votes in exchange for their sponsors not delaying the measure any further, they are not expected to hold votes on Graham’s for a simple reason: They could pass, which would return the bill to the House for another vote the nation doesn’t have time for.
How does the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision affect the vote?
On the Democratic side, only one amendment is expected. Offered by Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), it would strip a provision in the bill to complete construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The package includes permitting reform that gives the OK to finish the pipeline, which the White House agreed to in talks. Finishing the pipeline would hand a major win to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has pushed for the natural gas pipeline’s completion throughout the past year.
The effort has infuriated Kaine, who is among the most mild-mannered senators, to a point where he was visibly agitated Wednesday. He told reporters that he was blindsided by the 303-mile pipeline being included in the deal and that he was not given a heads up ahead of time by the White House.
“Look, I want Joe Manchin to do well. I don’t want him to falter. … But I mean, this is a Virginia project, and they didn’t even bother to pick up the phone and call me. Have I made them mad? No, I’m the one they call to try and get cabinet secretaries confirmed,” Kaine said, saying the White House recently reached out to him regarding Julie Su’s nomination to become Secretary of Labor.
Kaine admitted he is facing an “uphill” battle to get the provision nixed given that the White House and Republicans support it but maintained that he deserves a vote on the item. He has declined to say how he will vote on the final bill if the pipeline provision stays put.
How much support will the deal garner from each party?
A question that remains up in the air is how many senators inside each party end up backing this bill when it’s all said and done.
According to GOP sources, at least 10-20 Senate Republicans — led by McConnell, members of Senate GOP leadership and allies — are expected to ultimately line up behind the bill. That number could increase after 149 House Republicans backed the measure Wednesday night, one Senate GOP source told The Hill.
Across the aisle, the vast majority of Democrats are likely to back the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who have been touting the bill for days.
“I think a lot of us are still looking at some of the fine print,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said, adding that the bill is a “good framework.”
While a lot of Democrats have either started to signal their support or are holding out for the time being, progressives Wednesday began to come out against the legislation. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that he cannot vote for the bill “in good conscience,” calling it “totally unnecessary.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) added that he will also vote against the proposal, citing the situation surrounding the Mountain Valley Pipeline by and large.
“In sum, there is virtually nothing in this bill that matches what the people of Oregon care about, and a whole lot of stuff that will hurt them. I can’t throw them under the bus. I cannot in good conscience support this legislation,” Merkley said in a statement.
What do senators up for election in 2024 do?
Senators running for president or for reelection in 2024 will be under the microscope in the coming days as they put down a marker with this debt ceiling bill.
The only senator running for White House this cycle, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), said Wednesday that he will vote against the package, arguing that Biden should not be given carte blanche to spend as he feels is needed for the foreseeable future.
“The question I asked myself is, ‘At the end of the negotiation, is it in our best interest as a nation to allow Joe Biden, someone we cannot trust on spending, to have an open checkbook, no limit on the credit card until the end of his term?’” Scott said during an Axios event. “My answer is no.”
Meanwhile, a number of Senate Democrats who are facing competitive races next year are widely expected to support the deal. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters that he will vote “aye” on the bill.
“It’s an easy vote in the end because I’m happy that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and pensions are protected, because I know Republicans would like to privatize much of that and the American people won on that,” Brown said. “It was the right thing, and we didn’t default.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) indicated he will support the bill in the end, saying simply that the country “can’t default,” but noted that he still has to do his due diligence. As for Manchin, he is expected to support the bill given the inclusion of the pipeline’s completion.