The U.S. cleared another hurdle in avoiding its first default, as a the House of Representatives passed compromise legislation to suspend the debt ceiling.
Even as members of the far right revolted over the plan hashed out by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden, the bill had more than enough votes for passage. It passed 314-117. Members on both sides of the aisle clapped when the final tally was announced, a rare instance of bipartisanship for major legislation.
The legislation now moves to the Senate where, despite the endorsement of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, it’s not entirely clear when the bill will come to the floor. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told lawmakers that the U.S. has until June 5 to avoid default.
Two of the vocal opponents of the legislation — Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — want to present amendments but reportedly do not want to extend the process further.
In the end, more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans — 165 members vs. 149 members. Seventy one Republicans joined 46 Democrats in voting against it.
In a press conference after the vote, McCarthy touted the bill as a reset on out-of-control spending. “I have been thinking about this day before my vote for Speaker because I knew the debt ceiling was coming,” he told reporters. “I wanted to make history. I wanted to do something no other Congress has done.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would cut deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. The bill would suspend the debt ceiling until January, 2025. It also curbs increases in federal discretionary spending over the next two years, expands work requirements for food stamps and claws back some funding for the IRS, among other provisions.
Earlier in the week, it was not clear that the legislation’s passage was a sure thing, as a number of vocal Republicans, including Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), rallied against it as not going far enough to rein in spending. They attacked McCarthy personally, suggesting that he reneged on promises he gave them to clear the way for him to become Speaker. But they were unable to scuttle the legislation, as some of the influential voices in the party were missing from this fight: Donald Trump, who did not weigh in, and Tucker Carlson, who no longer has the nightly Fox News platform.
Democratic detractors, meanwhile, chided the deal as giving in to hostage taking, with vulnerable Americans paying the greatest cost.
It was clear earlier in the afternoon that the bill would have the votes, as members voted 241-187 on a procedural vote to start debate. There was a bit of drama, though, as dozens of Democrats initially withheld their votes. Enough supported the procedural move for it to pass.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries later slammed Republicans for needing the Democratic support just to get the legislation to the floor. “It appears that you have lost control of the floor of the House,” he said, noting that, by trying to block the legislation, 29 House Republicans “voted to default on our nation’s debt.”
Biden had initially insisted that he would not negotiate over raising and suspending the debt limit, arguing that it was non-negotiable to threaten the full faith and credit of the U.S. As the deadline approached, the administration entered into talks with House Republicans, resulting in the deal last weekend.
The White House has tried to sell the legislation to Democrats, upset with the cuts, by arguing that it could have been far worse and threatened parts of Biden’s agenda.
Biden said in a statement after the vote, “This agreement is good news for the American people and the American economy. It protects key priorities and accomplishments from the past two years, including historic investments that are creating good jobs across the country.”
Of the three House Democrats vying to succeed Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee voted against the bill, while Adam Schiff voted for it.
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