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Snow Forecast Could Speed Up Action on Debt Limit (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:57 p.m. | The Senate is once again racing Mother Nature: A final vote on a clean increase in the federal debt limit could come as early as Wednesday, provided Republican senators go along.  

A major snowstorm is expected in the national capital region Wednesday night and into Thursday, presumably setting up an early start to next week’s Presidents Day recess.  

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said the Senate is aware of the oncoming nor’easter, which he called the “great blizzard of 2014,” before adding, as any good Northerner might, “We have one of those every week around Washington.”  

The National Weather Service says five inches or more of snow and ice could fall in the region as a result of the storm.  

Durbin said the “clean debt limit coming over from the House sets the stage to move on this quickly.”  

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the weather would likely have “some impact on the rapidity of our decision-making process.”  

It looks increasingly likely that 60 votes will be required to clear the debt limit suspension. A spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz said the Texas Republican intends to push for the supermajority requirement.  

The higher vote threshold means that at least five Republican senators would need to cross over to support the “clean” debt limit increase. Sen. Rand Paul previously said that allowing it through with just a simple majority was under discussion. The strategy would allow all Republicans in the chamber to vote “no.”  

“I think that’s still open for debate,” the Kentucky Republican said. “So I don’t know there has been a final decision made on our side on that.  

“I’m a ‘no’ vote,” Paul continued. “I voted one time to raise the debt ceiling, but it was contingent upon a balanced budget amendment, the cut, cap and balance, two years ago and that’s about all that will get me along because I won’t vote for a clean one and I don’t trust most of the token gestures. Really the only thing that would ever reform this body would be a change in the Constitution. They [are] unable able to cut money around here.”  

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who doesn’t plan to support a clean debt ceiling increase, would not rule out the possibility that someone may seek to filibuster the bill.  

“Let’s see,” Blunt said. ” The vote might be impacted by how the vote looks coming out of the House later today.”  

Later Tuesday, the House is set to take up the measure that would suspend the statutory limit on the public debt until March 15 of next year, after no plan drafted by House Republicans managed to get demonstrable support of a majority in their chamber.  

The top Senate Republican demurred when asked about GOP strategy for handling that “clean” debt ceiling suspension when it arrives from the House.  

“Obviously, the House is supposed to vote later today and once that comes over, we’ll have a discussion about how to go forward.,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, adding later, “I hate to keep repeating myself, but it looks to me like we’ll find out in the next couple of days how this is going to be handled in the Senate.”  

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed earlier praise from other members of his leadership team on the move by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.  

“I’m happy to work with my Republican colleagues over here to schedule a timely vote. In the meantime, I commend Speaker Boehner for doing the right thing. I hope this common-sense approach will continue throughout the year, so we can actually get some things done,” Reid told reporters. “While today’s announcement is a good first step, the speaker’s next stop should be to bring an immigration reform bill and let it pass on a bipartisan vote, which everyone knows it would. This is the way things should work.”  

In addition to the debt ceiling, Democrats would like to work quickly to pass legislation that would undo the military pension reductions contained in last December’s budget deal, although the Senate plan does not contain the offset in a similar House measure .  

As for the schedule after the likely prolonged Presidents Day break, Reid said he was looking at a variety of legislative measures, as well as a backlog of pending nominations.  

“I’ve been working with some Republican senators on a number of issues. They know we’re going to move to minimum wage, an extremely important issue,” Reid said. “But, we’ve also talked about looking at some of the bills that are reported out of the committees on a bipartisan basis, and there aren’t a lot, but there are some important pieces of legislation.”  

Reid mentioned a sentencing overhaul from the Judiciary Committee as one possible bipartisan measure for the year.  

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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