The Senate is expected to vote before its Columbus Day recess on legislation that would raise the ceiling on the national debt to nearly $10 trillion, as the Treasury Department set a firm deadline.

Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said Thursday he will force a roll call vote on raising the debt limit. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. told congressional leaders in a letter dated Sept. 19 that the statutory limit of $8.965 trillion would be reached Oct. 1. In a July letter, he had estimated that would occur in “early October.”

The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation (H J Res 43) Sept. 12 that would boost the debt limit by $850 billion to $9.815 trillion. The House passed that measure automatically, without a roll call vote, when Congress adopted the fiscal 2008 budget resolution (S Con Res 21) earlier this year. But the Senate has no similar rule for automatic action.

Coburn said he wanted to draw attention to the rising debt. “Everyone is going to have to vote on it,” he said.

No Senate vote has been scheduled yet, but one is expected soon.

When the statutory debt limit was last increased, in March 2006, the Senate cleared the legislation, 52-48. All Democrats and three Republicans voted against the measure.

Now, Democrats control the Senate by a razor-thin margin of 51-49, including two independents who caucus with them. They will have to come up with the votes to pass the measure and will argue that failing to do so would further disrupt already shaky credit markets.

The debt limit has grown by $3 trillion since 2002.

Democrats have criticized the soaring debt as evidence that President Bush’s fiscal policies, supported by a GOP-controlled Congress until this year, led to the increase in red ink.

Debt that is subject to the statutory limit includes publicly traded securities purchased by Wall Street investors, savings bonds and special securities held by trust fund accounts that finance Social Security, Medicare and other government programs. If the debt limit is not increased, Treasury would be unable to pay interest on existing notes and bonds or borrow more funds.

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