WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Thursday to let the president raise the nation's debt limit by about $1.2 trillion, voting down a measure that would have disapproved of that hike.
The House voted last week to block the boost, but under the deal leaders in both chambers agreed upon to end the summer standoff over the debt limit, the only way Congress can block the increase in borrowing authority is by a two-thirds vote. The deal also included $2 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade.
The failure of Thursday's vote -- by a margin of 44 to 52 -- means President Obama is free to raise the limit to the level agreed upon last summer, just over $16 trillion.
Democrats argued that actually passing the motion to disapprove of raising the borrowing limit would risk another blow to America's standing in the world that would be even worse than the downgrade the nation's credit rating suffered during the summer showdown.
"If that were to pass, it would be chaos, " Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said before the vote.
Democrats also complained that voting against the hike made no sense as majorities in both chambers already voted to spend the money when they passed the proposed cuts last summer.
"Many of my colleagues who dutifully voted for all of this spending, knowing in the back of their minds we didn't have enough money and would have to borrow to accomplish it, now come to the floor in a few moments and are going to say we are holier than the others, we are going to vote against an extension of the debt ceiling," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "I would say to those colleagues, don't vote for the spending if you won't vote for the borrowing because we know now they are linked together."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) argued that both parties were derelict in running up spending, and that they had failed even to act on GAO reports pointing out billions in duplicative spending. Both sides are more worried about winning elections than governing, he argued.
"We ignore the reality," Coburn said. "We're in la-la land about who can win the next election."
Baucus noted, however, that the budget deal does make cuts.
"It is not unimportant that this body voted to reduce spending by about $2 trillion," Baucus said.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.