Debt Ceiling Deal Clears House On Bipartisan Vote; Senate Up Next

Faced with a Monday deadline, a compromise bill with big spending cuts is halfway to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill to raise the government’s limit on borrowing and trim the federal budget deficit passed the House late Wednesday, leaving the Senate the last obstacle to avoiding a debt default.

The bill passed with unexpectedly broad bipartisan support, a sign of the truce House Democrats and Republicans reached to get the legislation over the hump. The bill’s provisions were hammered out in weeks of talks at the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office.

Out of 431 House members voting, 314 voted for the bill, compared to 117 against. One hundred and sixty-five Democrats voted for it, joined by 149 Republicans.

“We produced a bill that — in divided government — takes a step towards smaller government, less regulation, more economic growth, and more take-home pay,” McCarthy said on the House floor.

The bill would suspend the debt limit through Jan. 1, 2025, a move that would take the issue off the political table through the next presidential election. According to Congressional Budget Office data, about $3 trillion in borrowing will be needed over this period.

The bill would also slightly expand eligibility for food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The expansion, which the nonpartisan CBO pegged at 0.2% of current rolls, would be the net effect of expanding access to veterans and homeless people while restricting access by raising the maximum age for which the program’s work requirements apply.

For Republicans, the centerpiece of the bill is a cap on the annual spending doled out by Congress for federal agencies for 2024 and 2025. House Republicans have touted the 2024 figure as a cut from overall current spending levels but the White House has said there was agreement to allow the use of one-time adjustments to bring non-defense outlays close to 2023 levels.

“I cannot stress enough that we have no margin, no margin for error.”

- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Largely because of the caps, the bill would shave about $1.5 trillion from the budget deficit through 2033, according to the CBO.

The bill also included other things sought by Republicans, including the new work requirements for some food assistance recipients, a rule requiring that the costs of expensive new regulations be offset, and taking back about $27 billion in COVID-related funding that had yet to be spent.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill in time to meet the Treasury’s deadline of Monday, the day on which it said it may not be able to pay all the government’s bills without more borrowing authority.

But how long the Senate might take is unclear. Senate leaders were looking to get cooperation from senators that would allow the chamber to avoid a weekend session but also allow time for votes on symbolic amendments that would be unlikely to be adopted.

“I cannot stress enough that we have no margin, no margin for error,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday afternoon.

“Either we proceed quickly and send this bipartisan agreement to the president’s desk or the federal government will default for the first time ever.”

The bill’s path through the House was a circuitous one, as it drew criticism from liberal Democrats for its spending cuts and SNAP policy changes and from right-wing Republicans for not cutting the deficit enough.

With only four spare votes among his own party, the situation left McCarthy in the uncomfortable position of having to rely on Democrats to pass a procedural bill Wednesday afternoon to get the debt deal on the floor.

The episode raised the specter that McCarthy could be chased from the speaker’s suite by unhappy party hard-liners in a way similar to John Boehner and Paul Ryan before him. While there has been no formal move to oust McCarthy, it may only be a matter of time.

But with the support from so much of his party on the debt bill, McCarthy’s position was likely strengthened. McCarthy, who went through 15 floor votes to become speaker, has appeared unperturbed so far. Asked Sunday if he worried about an effort to remove him as speaker, he said, “Not at all.”

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