The Senate voted Thursday to allow the government to go a whopping $1.9 trillion deeper
in debt, offering a vivid election-year reminder
that the government has to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends.
The measure would put the government on track for a national debt of $14.3 trillion — more than $45,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. And the debt is increasingly held by foreign nations such as China.
The budget for the current year is about $3.5 trillion and the deficit will probably match last year's $1.4 trillion. The government would have to borrow to cover that $1.4 trillion.
The measure passed 60-39
under ground rules insisted upon by Republicans that required 60 votes to pass it. Democrats and allied independents control 60 seats — for now — and were only able to win the vote because Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts has yet to be seated
While Thursday's vote went smoothly, it came after weeks of difficult negotiations between the White House and both House and Senate Democrats.
Moderate House "Blue Dog" Democrats came away with a tough new "pay-as-you-go" budget law to make it harder to run up the deficit with new tax cuts or federal benefit programs. Senate Democrats won a promise from President Barack Obama to name a bipartisan task force to come up with a plan for dealing with the spiraling debt — but one whose recommendations are unlikely to ever see an up-or-down vote
Meanwhile, Obama won symbolic support for his proposal for a partial domestic spending freeze.
A 56-strong majority of senators supported a plan, by Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that was strikingly similar to Obama's freeze on domestic programs annually funded by Congress. It failed because 60 votes were required, but the tally serves as a positive sign that even though there's significant opposition from Democratic liberals
, Obama's domestic freeze is likely to be adopted when Congress debates its budget.
The debt limit increase comes as a relief to Democrats worried about having to cast multiple, bite-sized increases in the debt in the run-up to the critical midterm elections this fall. Instead, the new limit would allow majority Democrats to avoid another vote until after the midterm elections this fall.