September 19, 2023

Biden-McCarthy debt ceiling deal approved by main committee ahead of House vote

WASHINGTON — A major debt-ceiling bill negotiated by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy passed its first test on Tuesday, received approval from the Republican-led House Rules Committee and set up a full house vote on Wednesday.

The vote was 7 to 6, with two Republicans — Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Chip Roy of Texas – and all four Democrats voted no. It sends the bill to the house floor.

The 99-page tax responsibility bill, which has drawn heavy criticism from some GOP hardliners, needs a majority of the House to pass. It will certainly count on some Democratic votes in the narrowly divided chamber.

If the bill passes the House, it must be approved by the Democratic Senate before Monday’s deadline to avoid catastrophic bankruptcy.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of three ultra-conservatives on the Rules Committee, previously announced his intention to vote yes, which almost certainly saw him pass the panel.

“There are things you don’t like and things you like about this bill,” said Massie. “If people want to express their ideology, the floor of the House on the actual final passage of the bill is the place to do it.”

Norman described the bill as “smoke and mirrors”, arguing that Republicans “should have walked away” from the table after passing their party-line debt limit legislation and forcing Democrats to swallow it or accept default .

Some progressive Democrats have expressed their own concerns about the bill ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the leading Democrat on the panel, criticized the bill’s new paperwork requirements for those receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and temporary assistance for needy families, fearing it would “increase poor make people poorer”.

“Everyone here wants to avoid a catastrophic default on our debt,” McGovern said, expressing hope that Congress could do this “without increasing hunger” in the US. “We don’t hold the Department of Defense responsible for cost overruns. Still, we’re doubling down on poor people.”

The bill would extend the debt limit by two years, in addition to modest federal spending cuts and a range of policy changes.

It would limit spending for the next two years to set up the credit process. It includes conservative policies that would withdraw about $28 billion in unused Covid relief funds, eliminate $1.4 billion in IRS funding, and redirect about $20 billion of the $80 billion the agency got through the Inflation Reduction Act to non- defense funds would shift.

The legislation would resume federal student loan payments after a long “pause” that began at the start of the pandemic. It would add work requirements to get SNAP and TANF benefits for people up to age 55 (the current threshold is 50), with exceptions for veterans and the homeless.

In addition, the Kingdom Act on Environmental Policy would be revised to streamline permits for projects.

Massie praised one part of the bill in his Rules Committee remarks: the inclusion of a measure he sponsored to require the government to cut spending 1% across the board if Congress does not pass all 12 appropriations bills.

But Roy said the bill was “basically a spending freeze” that would do little to change the long-term trajectory of the federal budget.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, RS.D., the chairman of the center-right Main Street Caucus, told reporters he predicts the bill will “absolutely pass” after talking to “dozens of members.”

Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., praised new Congressional Budget Office estimates provided to some in the Republican leadership that have not been made public, two GOP sources said. According to estimates, the Biden-McCarthy bill would save $2.1 trillion in spending — slightly more than what Republicans originally predicted.

Bice said the bill will pass with bipartisan support: “We are going to get there. There will be bipartisan support for this legislation. The president supports it. I think we’re in a really good place. Cutbacks are what we’ve been asking for; we have not asked for new taxes; no clean debt ceiling is what we asked for. And that is exactly what we have.”

Meanwhile, senior White House staffers worked on the phone over the weekend to sell the deal to moderates and progressive Democrats, including holding small-group briefings and one-on-one calls to respond to technical questions from lawmakers and their staff members, a White House official said.

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