House debates Biden-McCarthy debt ceiling bill as default deadline looms: NPR

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters as he walks to the House floor for a procedural vote ahead of a final vote on HR 3746 – Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 on May 31.

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters as he walks to the House floor for a procedural vote ahead of a final vote on HR 3746 – Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 on May 31.

True Anchorer/Getty Images

House lawmakers are debating a compromise bill between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

I can say, “I’m going to vote no because there’s something that’s not in the bill.” If I take that philosophy, I’ll never vote yes,” McCarthy said on the floor, nodding to a faction of his caucus unhappy with the deal.

“I read the bills in front of me and decide whether it’s good for the country. The answer is easily yes,” McCarthy added. “For the first time in more than a decade, Congress will spend less next year than it did this year.”

During the debate, Democrats reiterated a claim they’ve been making for months: House Republicans are holding the economy hostage by not agreeing to pass a clean debt ceiling bill.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries praised his members for pushing back against “radical MAGA Republican efforts to cut the throats of the right-wing American people.”

The 99 page bill A procedural moratorium was lifted Wednesday afternoon with bipartisan support. Democratic lawmakers initially held off on voting on the provision needed to advance the legislation, with only Republicans voting for several minutes in favor of the rule.

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“I probably would have done the same thing,” McCarthy said of Jeffries’ decision to wait until the last minute to give his members the green light to vote. “Well played.”

A similar strategy could be on display in the evening vote, with Democratic lawmakers waiting on the floor to see how many Republicans support it first.

“You can see it,” New Hampshire Rep. Annie Kuster told NPR.

“I think it’s appropriate for our constituency to know what the level of support in the Republican caucus is, and how many members of that caucus would be prepared to see our economy collapse,” Kuster said. “I think that’s important information.”

Speaking with President Biden about the legislation on Monday, Kuster says he is “very engaged” in reaching out to members to drum up support for the bill. Kuster leads the center-left New Democratic Alliance, which could deliver a large portion of the Democratic vote Wednesday night. Kuster plans to vote for the bill and expects it to pass, paving the way for a new bipartisan chapter.

“Since the previous president and certainly since Jan. 6, it’s been very difficult to work across the aisle in the Capitol. It’s been very painful,” he said. “I think this whole deal turns a corner toward a more productive relationship between Republicans and Democrats.”

What is in the bill?

The bipartisan bill would suspend the debt ceiling for nearly two years and combine it with spending cuts. It would establish spending limits for the federal budget while making policy changes. It would replace about $20 billion of the $80 billion the IRS received through the Inflation Reduction Act.

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The bill phases in higher age limits for work requirements in some federal safety net programs, such as food stamps and raising the maximum age from 50 to 54 by 2025. It would create new exemptions that would waive those requirements for all veterans and those experiencing homelessness. Young adults between the ages of 18-24 are unaccompanied minors.

Congressional Budget Office Assessments Changes to the food stamp program will cost about $2.1 billion over the next decade.

The CBO projects that the overall deal would reduce the federal deficit by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade. That’s less than 7% of what those deficits were predicted to be before the deal. Most of the deficit reduction will come from non-defense discretionary spending — which makes up a small portion of the federal budget.

Shortcomings are expected on both sides of the aisle

The high-stakes negotiations and subsequent vote on the deal will be an important test for McCarthy as speaker. With his narrow majority, McCarthy had a balancing act — crafting a deal that would satisfy the demands of a majority of his conference, which he must support to pass the bill without alienating some Democratic lawmakers.

A group of conservative members expressed their displeasure with some of the provisions in the legislation, and argue that McCarthy did not sufficiently align the bill to the version that passed the House in April.

“People want to compare what they like,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said. “But they have to compare to where we were, and we’re going to have a clean debt ceiling with nothing.”

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GOP members walked out of a closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday night, largely squashing the idea that disgruntled members might move to impeach McCarthy. Speaker.

Meanwhile, some Democrats are torn between wanting to pass a bill to avoid a potentially catastrophic default and pass legislation with provisions their constituents don’t support, such as job requirements and speeding up approvals for energy projects.

Rep. D-Calif. Ro Khanna said she plans to vote ‘no’ on the bill, citing her concerns about changes to food assistance, which she argues will disproportionately affect black women.

But he left open the possibility of supporting the bill if it changes its outcome.

“If we need some votes to make sure the country doesn’t default, I think one of us will provide it,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Eliza Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters the deal was “imperfect” but necessary.

“There was a group of us that, while we didn’t like the bill, we didn’t like the way it was negotiated in many ways, and we weren’t going to let our country go over a fiscal cliff. We had to be our guiding force,” he said.

The vote comes days before the U.S. runs out of money to pay its bills, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

NPR’s Scott Horsley, Lexie Schapitl and Vincent Acovino contributed to this report.

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