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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Washington (AFP) – Lawmakers approved a 13-month extension of U.S. borrowing authority with no string attached Wednesday, shelving a fractious political debate over the nation’s debt ceiling until after November’s mid-term elections.

Following the House of Representatives’ lead from a day earlier, the Senate passed the legislation 55-43, marking a dramatic victory for President Barack Obama who had demanded a debt ceiling hike with no political riders or other legislation attached. The measure now goes to the White House for his signature.

An uncomplicated extension of borrowing authority without other conditions would mark a shift away from recent confrontations that brought the world’s largest economy to the brink of default, culminating in the U.S. government being shuttered for 16 days in October.

It could also avoid the turmoil that rocked U.S. and international markets during the previous debt limit fights.

But the bill was nearly torpedoed in a tense procedural vote minutes earlier, when the Senate’s Republican leaders struggled to muster enough votes to overcome a blocking tactic known as a filibuster from within their ranks.

In the end, 12 Republicans voted along with all Democrats to advance the bill, although no Republicans backed its final passage.

“What needed to get done got done,” said Senator Bob Corker, one of the dozen Republicans who helped move the bill forward. “At the end of the day there was no stated outcome by any way other than a clean debt ceiling.”

The U.S. Treasury estimates it will exhaust existing borrowing capacity on February 27 without new authority.

With Congress racing out of town early to avoid a looming snow storm, and a recess scheduled for next week, lawmakers had precious few legislative days before the deadline.

Corker said he and other Republicans had to swallow the bitter pill of allowing a debt ceiling bill to move ahead without any federal spending cuts attached, for which they usually push.

“We can put the country through two weeks of turmoil or we can get this vote behind us,” Corker said.

AFP/Jim Watson

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