The House passed legislation Wednesday to raise the nation’s borrowing limit through 2024, sending it to the Senate with less than six days until a June 5 default deadline.
The vote united a swath of Republicans and Democrats, and was opposed by a swath of conservative and progressive lawmakers, with a few of the former floating an attempt to strip Speaker Kevin McCarthy of his gavel over the bipartisan debt agreement he negotiated.
The hurdles aren’t over yet. The bill still needs to clear the Senate by Monday’s deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can start setting up votes on the debt bill as soon as Thursday, with the first vote on Saturday absent agreement from all 100 senators. Several senators want votes on amendments as a condition to speed up the process, and Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hope to finish work on the bill before the weekend by crafting a deal on amendments and sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk days before the Monday deadline.
But passing the bill marks the House’s biggest bipartisan victory since Republicans took over the chamber this year. Until now, McCarthy’s repeated wrangling of members has mostly been on a series of messaging bills with no Democratic support and no chance at becoming law. And he faced plenty of questions on whether he could get enough Republican support for the debt plan.
“Don’t miss out. Don’t sit back and think, ‘I wanted something so much more,’” McCarthy said, describing his pitch to members. “Yeah, there’s a lot of things I want, too, but this is one that moves us in the right direction.”
In the end, McCarthy lost 71 House Republicans, while 149 backed it. But the bill easily passed with support from 165 Democrats, who were torn between voting for a bill that includes some policies they oppose or risking a default.
“I have mixed emotions because, on one hand, I think that what our colleagues are doing is punitive and just bad for a country. But I also recognize the importance of protecting the full faith and credit of my country,” said Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.).
But there was still plenty of internal GOP drama, despite the pre-baked outcome.
In addition to raising the debt ceiling until Jan. 1, 2025, the debt bill sets top-line spending levels for two years. It also, among other provisions, automatically cuts government funding by one percent absent spending bills passed by Jan. 1. Republicans have also touted new work requirements and other restrictions for certain social safety net programs.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and other senior Republicans also tried to prevent a potential last-minute revolt after a CBO score projected the work requirement changes in the bill would actually increase spending for the key food aid program, due to exemptions for veterans, homeless people and young adults recently aged out of foster care, according to CBO.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus also formally came out against the legislation just hours before the vote, making a doomed pitch for their colleagues to sink the bill and “force Democrats back to the negotiating table.”
“The Biden-McCarthy deal … threatens to shatter Republican unity,” they wrote.
McCarthy made a swaggering pitch to his members during a closed-door hours-long conference meeting Tuesday night, which several GOP lawmakers compared to a pep rally meant to drive up support for the agreement.
But that did little to appease his most ardent holdouts. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who ultimately narrowly missed Wednesday night’s vote, said afterward that “the cheering doesn’t move me.” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) also railed against the deal Wednesday, saying: “My beef is that you cut a deal that shouldn’t have been cut.”
McCarthy and his team worked up until the vote to try to drive up the number of Republicans who would support the deal. The more GOP yeas he put on the board, the more leadership could isolate the small crop of conservatives contemplating mutiny — strengthening McCarthy’s hand as he heads into new governing challenges, not to mention the 2024 elections.
The GOP’s whip operation formally began on Saturday, even before the text of the deal was finalized. Since then, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and his team have touched base with “every single” Republican — some members had two or three conversations, according to a Republican familiar with the discussions.
Emmer and chief deputy whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) made many of those calls, in addition to one-on-one meetings with members in the whip’s office. But other McCarthy allies jumped in to pitch key corners of the conference including Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) and Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.).
Some of McCarthy’s fiercest detractors also raised the prospect of trying to oust him from the speakership — a likely doomed effort but one that still threatens to reopen old wounds from the high-drama fight over the House gavel.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of the lead GOP negotiators, said he wasn’t worried about McCarthy being ousted, arguing that he had been constantly “underestimated.”
“The week of the speaker’s vote, the lack of negotiation, there have been multiple times this calendar year alone that he’s been underestimated. The vote tonight will prove out why that is the wrong proposition here,” McHenry said.
But there are already vows among some to try to start a conversation about the motion to vacate — how they could try to oust McCarthy — next week.
“All I’m gonna advocate for at this point is to have a discussion about the motion to vacate,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who opposed the bill.
Sarah Ferris, Burgess Everett, Meredith Lee Hill, Nicholas Wu and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.
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