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Senate clears $1.2 trillion debt ceiling raise

The Senate voted 44-52 Thursday clearing President Obama to raise the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion.

The ceiling will go to $16.4 trillion and, according to some estimates, may be breached again around the time of the November elections.

The Senate vote Thursday rejected a House resolution passed last week to block the president. Earlier in the month, Obama asked for the third increase, which was built into the compromise reached in August.

Congress passed legislation at the 11th hour last summer allowing an initial $400 billion increase to the limit, followed by automatic hikes of $500 billion and the latest $1.2 trillion that could only be blocked by a resolution, which the president could veto anyway had the Senate not blocked it.

Republicans blocked efforts to cut spending during the August negotiations because Democrats attached tax increases to the rich as part of the deal. A super committee was also formed to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, but again both sides couldn’t agree on whether to increase revenue, triggering deeper automatic cuts to take place in the coming years, including those to military budgets.

In his State of the Union address this week, the president said he would sign an executive order to funnel savings from military cuts to reduce the nation’s debt and fund needed construction projects.

“Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home,” Obama said.

But with a debt level set to reach $16.4 trillion, senators acknowledged more meaningful steps need to be taken even as the two sides seem as far apart as ever on how to get there.

“We should be working together to lower the debt, not having votes to increase it,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday. “But the president must be willing to face this crisis head on. He must be willing to acknowledge how serious this issue is.”

“Americans are working just as hard as they worked 60 years ago. But that hard work is paying off for fewer and fewer people,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. said. “Everyone must share the prosperity as well as the responsibility.”

Write to Jon Prior.

Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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