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Congress has averted a default by raising the country's borrowing limit. The Senate passed the legislation this afternoon after overcoming an attempted filibuster. The bill pushes the debt ceiling deadline to March of 2015 and it now heads to the White House for the president to sign. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, Democrats needed five Republicans to join them. And after some last-minute scrambling, they unexpectedly got 12.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: When the Senate opened session this morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid celebrated a rare moment when he and House Speaker John Boehner were actually in sync. He commended Boehner for showing leadership yesterday in supporting a bill to raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached. And then he turned to Senate Republicans with one message, come on, join us. Do what you know is right.
SENATOR HARRY REID: I believe many of my Republican colleagues would like to be reasonable. I really do believe that. If they weren't so beholden and afraid of their Tea Party overlords.
CHANG: Now, when you ask nearly any Republican whether Congress should raise the debt ceiling, there's a refrain you hear over and over again. Here's John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
SENATOR JOHN HOEVEN: Oh, I think we need savings and reforms, as I've said, as part of any debt ceiling agreement.
SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: We need some reform before we raise the debt ceiling.
SENATOR PAT TOOMEY: I think we ought to have some spending reforms as part of a debt limit increase.
CHANG: The bill before the Senate raised the debt limit without any reforms. But after getting blamed for a government shutdown back in October, Republicans weren't eager to get blamed for causing the country to default as well. So in an ideal world, here's what would have happened. Senate Democrats would be the ones to pass this debt ceiling bill with a simple majority vote, and then all the Republicans could then vote against it. Default averted, everyone's political hide saved.
But Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, who became the public face of the government shutdown last fall, had other plans. He said he would filibuster, which meant, now, the legislation needed Republican votes to clear the Senate. Bob Corker of Tennessee decided he'd be one of them.
SENATOR BOB CORKER: We could have had a 50-vote-threshold. We had members that would not allow that to happen. There was no end game there. There was no outcome that was ever discussed.
CHANG: Corker says there didn't seem to be any logical reason to stall things at this point, now that the Republican-controlled House approved the measure. And he said that he and the other 11 Republicans who voted to let the bill proceed today did the responsible thing, especially Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who will likely take some abuse in his primary race this year for his yes vote today.
CORKER: Hopefully, people will understand that McConnell, especially in an incredibly tough race, the toughest Republican race in the country, had the courage to vote the way the vast majority of everybody understood the vote needed to occur. OK?
CHANG: So does today then mark the end of Republicans using the debt ceiling as leverage to extract concessions? Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts says, I wouldn't go that far.
SENATOR ED MARKEY: For this year. But the outcome of the election this year will ultimately determine what the conditions are for next year. Making a prediction beyond that, I think, is impossible.
CHANG: The bill that cleared Congress this afternoon is the first time since 2009 a debt ceiling increase passed without any other legislation attached. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.