In a high drama vote Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill to extend the government’s borrowing authority until March 2015.
The Senate voted along party lines – 55-43 – to increase the debt limit. That result followed another vote to clear a procedural hurdle that resulted in some dramatic arm twisting between Republican senators after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, required a 60-vote threshold in order to advance the bill.
What was supposed to be a 15-minute procedural vote lasted an hour, with Republican senators deliberating over who would vote to advance the bill. A large group of Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was seen huddling on the Senate floor before deciding their votes.
In a move that could be used against them by their primary opponents in the 2014 campaign, McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted in favor of advancing the bill, opening the floodgates for other Republican senators who were wary of voting aye to join them.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shook hands with Cornyn, McConnell and Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who also voted aye, after they voted to invoke cloture. The Arizona senator then retreated to the cloak room, returning minutes later with other senators, including Thune, to switch their votes from a no to yes.
12 Republicans ultimately voted to advance the bill, but all Republicans voted against raising the debt limit itself.
McCain later praised McConnell for his vote to advance the bill, even it will cost him political points in his Senate race in Kentucky.
“It was very helpful that the leadership voted the way they did, and I must say it was a very courageous act upon, especially Sen. McConnell, who as we all know is in a very tough race,” McCain told reporters. “He knows that he’s the leader, he’s the elected Republican leader, and that it was up to him to cast the right vote.”
Republicans were forced to make the tough vote after Cruz required a 60-vote threshold on the bill, a move the Texas senator did not regret despite the political impact it could have on his Republican colleagues seeking re-election.
“It should have been a very easy vote,” Cruz told reporters outside the Senate chamber following final passage. “In my view, every Senate Republican should have stood together and said what everyone of us tells our constituents back home, which is that we will not go along with raising the debt ceiling while doing nothing to fix the underlying, out-of-control spending problems.”
Asked what he accomplished with this vote, Cruz said, “There is value in candor and clarity with the American people. Each senator, each representative makes a decision about how he or she will vote, and when those votes are clear to their constituents, democracy works far better.”
The House voted 221-201 to increase the debt limit. House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were among the 28 Republicans who voted in favor of raising the debt ceiling. The bill will now be sent to the president for a signature.