House approves measure to suspend federal debt limit
WASHINGTON – House lawmakers overwhelmingly agreed Wednesday to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling for two years, heading off an economically devastating default.
After a revolt by far-right Republicans threatened to scuttle consideration of the bill, a bipartisan coalition lined up in large numbers to support the compromise negotiated by President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy and pull the nation back from the brink of economic catastrophe.
The 314-117 vote came days before the nation was projected to exhaust its borrowing power, and after a marathon set of talks between White House negotiators and top House Republicans.
The bill, which now heads to the Senate, where leaders in both parties have expressed their support, would defer the federal debt limit for two years – allowing the government to borrow unlimited sums as necessary to pay its obligations. It would also impose two years of spending caps and a string of policy changes that Republicans demanded in exchange for allowing the country to avoid a disastrous default.
With far-right and hard-left lawmakers furious over the deal, congressional leaders cobbled together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats willing to drag the bill over the finish line, throwing their support behind the compromise in an effort to break the fiscal stalemate that has gripped Washington for weeks.
The compromise was intentionally structured with the aim of enticing votes from both parties, allowing Republicans to say that they succeeded in reducing some federal spending – even as funding for the military and veterans’ programs would continue to grow – while allowing Democrats to say they spared most domestic programs from significant cuts.
Before the series of votes Wednesday, McCarthy urged his members to support the bill, framing it as a “small step putting us on the right track,” and promoting the spending cuts and work requirements Republicans won in the deal.
“Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” he said. “But on history, I’d want to be here with this bill today.”
In the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders said they would quickly take up the legislation and push to get the package to Biden as swiftly as possible, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, warning that lawmakers would need to approve the bill without changes to meet the June 5 deadline when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the government would default without action by Congress.
The deal would suspend the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit until January 2025. It would cut federal spending by $1.5 trillion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by effectively freezing some funding that had been projected to increase next year and then limiting spending to 1% growth in 2025, which is considered a spending cut because the increase won’t keep pace with inflation. The legislation would also impose stricter work requirements for food stamps, claw back some funding for IRS enforcement and unspent coronavirus relief money, accelerate the permitting of new energy projects and officially end Biden’s student loan repayment freeze.
The vote came after the legislation nearly collapsed on its way to the House floor, when hard-right Republicans sought to block its consideration, and in a suspenseful scene, Democrats waited several minutes before swooping in to supply their votes for a procedural measure that allowed the plan to move ahead.
Some Republicans, including members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, oppose the deal because they believe it doesn’t cut enough from the federal budget. Some progressive Democrats oppose it because they believe it cuts too much, namely from safety net programs.
Passage of the deal is a major victory for McCarthy, who faced a massive challenge in shepherding a debt ceiling increase through a narrowly divided chamber populated by Republicans who have long refused to raise the borrowing limit. Few had expected that McCarthy would be able to unite his fractious conference around any such measure, much less one negotiated with Biden, without prompting an attempt by his right flank to oust him. No such effort has materialized as of Wednesday night.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.