US debt ceiling deal clears first hurdle despite fierce conservative protests

  • By Anthony Searcher
  • North American Correspondent
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Chip Roy of Texas promised “a reckoning.”

A fierce Republican rebellion failed to prevent legislation to raise the US debt ceiling from clearing its first procedural hurdle in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday evening. Here’s a guide to how the drama is playing out on Capitol Hill and what’s coming next.

The two sides finally reached an agreement after months of standoff, followed by weeks of tough negotiations. It’s an uphill battle – but there are still steep hills to climb.

Now the two leaders — Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — must sell their weekend deal to members of Congress. Despite some defections on the left and right, they believe they have the votes to pass a bill before the deadline.

The deal introduces new federal spending caps and restrictions on low-income assistance programs in exchange for an increase in the borrowing limit.

It became clear Tuesday that it was not a deal that would satisfy conservative hardliners in the House. The question is whether there are enough of them to lead the way in the right places. The answer, for now, seems to be that they are not.

At a press conference on the steps of the US Capitol earlier Tuesday, 11 ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus members railed against what they saw as insufficient spending cuts and budget caps in the reconciliation legislation.

When asked whether they would call for Mr McCarthy’s removal, they dodged the question – which would add to the rift among Republicans in the House.

“No matter what happens, if we don’t stop this bill by tomorrow, there will be a reckoning for what happened,” warned Congressman Chip Roy of Texas, another Freedom Caucus member.

Firebrand conservatives may have had their best chance to block the compromise bill in its early stages on Tuesday evening, when the powerful House Rules Committee debated the legislation and considered the terms for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

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See: Debt ceiling explained – within 90 seconds

With two independent caucus members on the 13-seat panel, hardliners must force Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy back to the drawing board, along with Democrats and one Republican.

Instead, Thomas Massey, a frequent Republican caucus ally, along with six other Republicans sent the bill to the House by a 7-6 vote tomorrow evening.

Roy and Ralph Norman of South Carolina joined four other Democrats in voting against.

“I didn’t like the process that led to this bill, I’m not going to lie,” the Kentucky Republican said before adding that the deal was enough to win his support.

Despite the victory for Mr McCarthy and supporters of the deal, such a leak among the majority on the rules committee is rare and underscores the strained relations among House Republicans.

“Right now the Republican convention is divided,” Mr Roy said of his party on Tuesday afternoon.

With this first hurdle cleared, the remaining steps needed to end the credit-default crisis are:

  • The House of Representatives will hold an up-or-down vote on the bill, which requires a simple majority for approval, possibly as early as Wednesday night
  • The Senate will then consider the bill. Ratification requires 60 votes in the 100-member House. Although individual senators can delay proceedings if they choose, the process can move quickly
  • If a similar version of the debt agreement is approved by both the House and the Senate, the bill will be sent to Mr. Biden for his signature.

This time, ranking members in both the House and Senate are ready to fall in line.

There could be some dissent from left-leaning Democrats, who complained about how the proposed budget cuts would fall only on social programs and opposed new work requirements for low-income recipients of some assistance.

Democratic hardliners, however, are less organized — and less vocal in their objections — than their conservative counterparts.

The Treasury has pushed back the date that the US will reach its limit on Monday, June 5, and financial markets appear to have calmed down as a resolution appeared in sight.

However, that could change quickly if the multi-step process to approve the debt ceiling agreement is derailed or blocked in the coming days.

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