The Senate has voted to raise the ceiling on the government debt to $12.4 trillion. That is a $290 billion increase over the current ceiling.

The House approved the increase last week. The Senate’s rare Christmas Eve vote, 60-39, permits the Treasury Department to issue enough bonds to fund the government’s operations and programs until mid-February. The Senate will vote again on the politically tricky issue on Jan. 20.

President Barack Obama must sign the measure into law to prevent a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The measure is needed after the government piled up a record $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 to counter a meltdown in financial markets and help bring the nation out of its worst recession in seven decades.

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