This was on final passage of legislation that increased the national debt, which was necessary to allow the federal government to continue operating. The measure raised the debt limit by $290 billion, enough to keep the government going through early February of 2010.
The Treasury Department had advised Congress that total government borrowing would reach the then-allowable limit by the end of 2009. Without a legal increase in that limit, the federal government could not borrow any more money and would have to suspend operations or suspend repayment of principal and interest on the debt it had already incurred. Supporters of the debt increase noted that it did not increase any spending, but allowed the government to continue such important functions as sending out Social Security checks and supporting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also noted that, since much of the debt was held outside the United States, the government would effectively be defaulting on a foreign obligation if it did not have the ability to continue paying on it.
The Republican minority used the vote as an opportunity to criticize the general level of government spending. Sen. Enzi (W-WY) noted: “As a percentage of the economy, our deficit is 10 percent of GDP—the highest it has been since the Second World War . . . Our nation is being buried under a mountain of debt, which poses a deadly threat to the future of our nation . . . These levels of debt are not sustainable . . . the interest rates we pay on our debt will grow. That means that it will soon cost us considerably more to allow Washington to continue to borrow the money it needs to fund its current spending binge.” He referenced statistics from fiscal year 2000 to show that “unfunded promises” for Social Security and Medicare had increased by 176% over nine years.
Enzi added: “Our most fundamental duty as Members of Congress is to wisely manage the power of the purse for our nation. Congress is currently failing to carry out this obligation.”
Sen. Hatch (R-UT) said: “In a season when most families have cut back their own spending and, in many cases, cut up their own credit cards, the Democratic majority is asking us to increase the nation’s credit card limit so that they can continue to take on more debt to cover their voracious appetite for spending.”
The legislation passed by a vote of 60-39 along straight party lines. All sixty “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. All thirty-nine “nay” votes were cast by the Republicans present. As a result, the Senate passed legislation increasing the national debt limit and sent it to the White House to be signed into law by the president.