US House of Representatives votes ‘yes’ on debt-ceiling deal

Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced opposition in his own party to a deal hammered out with the White House to avoid default.

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy walks across the tiled floors of Congress, surrounded by reporters and people recording on cellphones
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has called the debt-ceiling deal 'the largest spending cut in American history' [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

The United States House of Representatives has voted to advance a bipartisan bill to raise the debt ceiling, which limits the amount of money the federal government can borrow.

After calling for a recorded vote, the House passed the bill 314 – 117 in a late night sitting on Wednesday.

The vote comes as the government approaches a Monday deadline to lift the debt ceiling or default on its loans, a prospect experts warn could have devastating effects on the US economy.

The bill will now go the Senate, where the Democrats have a slim majority.

“This agreement is good news for the American people and the American economy,” Biden said after the bill passed the Republican-controlled house. “I urge the Senate to pass it as quickly as possible so that I can sign it into law.”

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced a divided party as he rallied votes for the 99-page deal, which would suspend the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit until January 2025.

Far-right members of the Republican Party blasted the agreement that was first announced on Sunday after days of negotiations between congressional representatives and members of President Joe Biden’s Democratic White House.

Among the criticisms was the fact that the proposed spending cuts were not as deep as many Republicans hoped.

“This deal fails, fails completely,” Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said at a news conference on Tuesday for the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right bloc of representatives. “And that’s why these members and others will be absolutely opposed to the deal and we will do everything in our power to stop it and end it now.”

Another representative at the press conference, Texas’s Chip Roy, said that “the Republican right now has been torn asunder” by the terms of the deal. He highlighted the gains made during the 2022 midterm elections when a Republican majority took control of the 435-member House.

“I want to be very clear: Not one Republican should vote for this bill. Not one,” Roy said in defiance of McCarthy’s efforts.

In the event, some 71 hardline Republicans voted against the bill.

While that would normally be enough to block partisan legislation, 165 Democrats – more than the 149 Republicans who voted for it – backed the measure and pushed it through.

Criticism on both sides of political spectrum

Before the vote even progressive House Democrats had voiced their opposition, condemning proposed changes to food assistance and other social safety net programmes.

“This was never about fiscal responsibility or reducing the deficit,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State said of the deal in a Twitter post.

“This is about hurting poor people and making them pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest while the GOP pushes their cruel, ideological priorities.”

She blamed “extreme” members of the Republican Party for failing to raise the debt ceiling “with no strings attached”.

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) leads a House Progressive Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill in the midst of ongoing negotiations seeking a deal to raise the United States' debt ceiling. She stands at a podium, surrounded by people, as she gestures to blue signs that reads: "MAGA Republicans' Bad Deal"
US Representative Pramila Jayapal has raised concerns about the bipartisan deal to lift the debt ceiling [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Democratic leadership in the House, however, promised to prevent any default from occurring.

“Defaulting on our debt and crashing the economy will hurt millions of everyday Americans,” top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Right-wing extremists want to trigger a recession. House Dems will not allow that to happen.”

The White House also defended the deal against allegations that its compromises were too costly during the daily briefing with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“Here’s the reality. When you negotiate in this way, no one’s going to get everything that they want,” she told reporters.

“What the president tried to do is protect the gains that he made, the historic gains that he made these last two years, and really key core Democratic values that we believe are important to American families.”

She added that Biden was “confident” the deal would reach his desk before June 5, when the Treasury has said the US would run short of money to pay its debts.

The White House, she explained, had made more than 120 one-on-one calls with members of Congress to shore up support for the agreement ahead of the vote.

‘We must avoid default’

Politicians are now looking to ensure swift passage by the Senate, where the Democrats have a majority, and ensure government cheques continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others, and prevent financial upheaval at home and abroad.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned there was ”no room for error” as he and Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader said they hoped to move to enact the legislation before the weekend.

Republicans said Schumer and McConnell could need to allow votes on Republican amendments to ensure quick action.

But Schumer appeared to rule out any amendments on Wednesday, telling reporters: “We cannot send anything back to the House, plain and simple. We must avoid default.”

Senate debate and voting could stretch into the weekend, especially if any one of the 100 senators tries to slow passage.

Hardline Republican Senator Rand Paul, long known for delaying important Senate votes, has said he would not hold up its progress if allowed to offer an amendment for a floor vote.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he would oppose the bill due to the inclusion of an energy pipeline and extra work requirements.

“I cannot, in good conscience, vote for the debt ceiling deal,” Sanders said on Twitter.

Swift passage later in the week by the Senate would ensure government checks will continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others and would prevent financial upheaval at home and abroad. Next Monday is when the Treasury has said the U.S. would run short of money to pay its debts.

Negotiating the terms of the deal

Promoted by McCarthy and Biden, party leaders ordinarily at loggerheads, the deal represents a compromise after the Republican-led House passed a bill in April that was deemed a nonstarter by Democrats.

That bill would have lifted the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion in exchange for significant cuts to Biden’s domestic platform and other social programmes.

Faced with the prospect of a Biden veto, the two leaders agreed to negotiate new terms for Congress to vote on. The current deal would suspend the debt limit until 2025, allowing the government to borrow as much money as it needs up to that point.

But it would limit government expenses in other ways. Discretionary spending would be limited to one-percent growth over six years, though Congress would have to revisit that cap in 2025.

A man in a dark suit crosses a tiled floor in the US Congress, surrounded by other formally dressed people. White statues can be seen in the background.
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy arrives at the House floor on Wednesday ahead of an expected vote on the debt-ceiling deal [Julia Nikhinson/Reuters]

A report from the Congressional Budget Office released on Tuesday found the deal’s discretionary spending constraints could reduce the US deficit by $1.5 trillion from 2023 to 2033. McCarthy has touted it as the “largest spending cut in American history”.

In addition, under the terms of the new deal, the government would claw back billions in funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as well as unspent COVID-19 relief money, two Republican priorities.

Republicans also earned concessions in the form of additional work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes called food stamps. And under the terms of the deal, student loan repayments frozen under Biden would resume in August.

Unlike the previous bill in April, however, no additional work requirements would be imposed on recipients of Medicaid, a programme for low-income and elderly individuals. The new deal also preserves tax credits for clean energy initiatives championed by Biden.


Source: Al Jazeera