House to vote on debt limit deal as lawmakers race to avert default

May 31, 2023
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives is on track to vote Wednesday on a bill to suspend the nation’s debt limit through January 1, 2025, as lawmakers race to prevent a catastrophic default.

If the House passes the bill as expected, it would next need to be passed by the Senate before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. In the Senate, any one lawmaker can delay a swift vote and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has told lawmakers to prepare for the possibility of votes Friday or over the weekend.

The timeframe to pass the bill through Congress is extremely tight and there is little room for error, putting enormous pressure on leadership in both parties.

Lawmakers are racing the clock to avert a first-ever default ahead of June 5, the date the Treasury Department has said it will no longer be able to pay all of the nation’s obligations in full and on time, a scenario that could trigger global economic catastrophe.

The bipartisan debt limit deal struck between the White House and House Republicans was announced over the weekend – the culmination of long days and late nights of contentious negotiations that at times looked like they might breakdown and fall apart entirely.

The effort to secure a debt limit deal has proven to be a major leadership test for both House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden.

Suspending the debt limit through 2025 takes the threat of default off table until after the presidential election. In addition to addressing the debt limit, the bill caps non-defense spending, expands work requirements for some food stamp recipients and claws back some Covid-19 relief funds, among other policy provisions.

The deal has faced backlash from lawmakers on the far left and the far right, but a significant number of members on both sides of the aisle – many of them moderates – have signaled they support the bill, a coalition that leaders in both chambers are expected to rely on to pass the legislation.

McCarthy and his top allies have expressed confidence the deal will pass in the House.

“I am confident we will pass the bill,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.

GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry, one of the key negotiators of the deal, said, “yes,” he is confident that a majority of House Republicans will support the bill, despite pushback from conservatives. Asked if it would pass on Wednesday, he replied, “yes.”

In a win for McCarthy, the bill cleared a key hurdle Tuesday evening when the powerful House Rules Committee voted seven to six to advance the debt ceiling bill to the floor.

Before the House votes on final passage of the debt limit deal, the chamber must first vote to pass a rule setting parameters for floor debate. Typically, rule votes fall along party lines.

In this case, Republicans are likely to face some defections from conservative members, though it is not yet clear how many. If that happens in significant numbers, however, Democrats could cross the aisle to vote in support of the rule and clear the last major hurdle before a final House floor vote can take place.

The Congressional Budget Office told McCarthy in a letter Tuesday night that the bill would reduce budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. The letter says that if the bill is enacted, “mandatory spending would, on net, decrease by $10 billion, and revenues would, on net, decrease by $2 billion over the 2023–2033 period,” the agency wrote. “As a consequence, interest on the public debt would decline by $188 billion.” Discretionary spending would be reduced by a projected $1.3 trillion over the 2024-2033 period.

But in a troubling sign for McCarthy, the CBO also warned that changes to the work requirement provisions in the food stamps program “would increase federal spending by about $2.1 billion over the 2023-2033 period.” The bill would increase the upper age limit of the existing work requirement through age 54, but veterans, homeless Americans and former foster youth of all ages would be exempt. Combined, these provisions would increase the number of people receiving benefits by about 78,000 people in an average month during the 2025 to 2030 period, when they were fully in effect, according to the agency. — CNN

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