The U.S. Senate passed a debt ceiling bill, addressing the issue just before the country would have defaulted on its debts.
Senators voted 63-36 to pass the bill. Both senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, voted yes.
The bill now goes to President Biden, who has said he will sign it.
Federal officials had said the United States would reach the x-date, representing the day the federal government runs out of means to pay its existing debts, by early next week. If the United States would default on its debt, economists warn of dire effects on the economy.
“I am very glad we did the responsible thing and took action to prevent our nation from facing default. In doing so, we were also able to advance policies, including SNAP work requirements, clawing back unspent COVID funds, and the cut to the IRS budget, which are all responsible and necessary actions good for West Virginia and the entire country,” Capito stated after the vote.
President Biden and administration representatives negotiated with Speaker McCarthy and his team, announcing a compromise bill this past weekend.
The deal would suspend the debt ceiling, currently at $31.4 trillion, until Jan. 1, 2025.
The legislation also includes caps for the next two years of nonefense discretionary spending.
Furthermore, the bill would haul back about $28 billion in unspent covid relief funds, eliminate $1.4 billion in IRS funding and place work requirements for people up to 55 years old to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program plus Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, with exceptions for veterans and homeless people.
The bill has an aspect of particular interest in West Virginia, expedited approval for federal regulation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which crosses nine counties to deliver natural gas to eastern markets.
“I am proud to announce that we have finally secured the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and have done so with broad, bipartisan support. For more than nine months, I have worked tirelessly to build consensus and garner the support necessary to complete MVP,” Manchin said in a statement after the late-night vote.
Senators rejected an amendment by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat who proposed removing the Mountain Valley Pipeline provisions from the legislation.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a proposed 303.5-mile interstate natural gas pipeline. The pipeline’s developers have said they intend to bring the pipeline into service in the second half of 2023.
The $6.6 billion pipeline project first got authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017, but its completion has been delayed by regulatory hurdles and court challenges.
The section of the debt ceiling bill dealing with the pipeline says, “The Congress hereby finds and declares that the timely completion of construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is required in the national interest.”
That section goes on to say Congress ratifies and approves all permits and other approvals required for construction and initial operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The section specifies that the approvals should occur no later than 21 days after passage of the bill. The bill goes on to say that no court would have jurisdiction to review the federal regulatory actions.
Environmental groups contend the pipeline will affect forest habitats, result in runoff to streams and disrupt outdoor recreation. There’s also an overriding concern about the effects of fossil fuels like natural gas on climate change.
And the groups object to due process in the court system being shortcircuited through the congressional action.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline has repeatedly failed to demonstrate that it can be constructed without gross violations of the law,” stated Chelsea Barnes, director of government affairs for the Appalachian Voices advocacy group.
“This action by Congress and the White House to attempt to skirt environmental laws, force the issuance of permits and strip the courts of their authority is an abuse of power and a denial of environmental justice.”