Debt ceiling deal clears first hurdle with House panel and advances for debate
Jun 17, 2023
The committee voted 7-6 to allow debate by the full chamber with expected vote on passage on Wednesday
The bipartisan debt ceiling deal brokered by Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy passed an important hurdle on Tuesday evening, advancing to the full House of Representatives for debate and an expected vote on passage on Wednesday even amid opposition from far-right Republicans.
Earlier in the day, McCarthy, the Republican speaker of the US House, had insisted that supporting the debt ceiling deal would be "easy" for his party and it was likely to pass through Congress despite one prominent rightwinger's verdict that the proposed agreement is a "turd sandwich".
The House rules committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to allow debate by the full chamber, with two committee Republicans bucking party leadership and opposing the bill. Their opposition underscored the need for Democrats to help pass the measure in the House, which is controlled by Republicans with a narrow majority.
But amid loud denunciations from the Republican right and also from closer to the centre, McCarthy said he was not worried the agreement would fail, or that it would threaten his hold on the speaker's gavel.
The bill is the "most conservative deal we’ve ever had", McCarthy told reporters, of a two-year agreement that includes spending freezes and rescinding Internal Revenue Service funding while leaving military and veterans spending untouched.
Negotiators fielded by McCarthy and Joe Biden reached the deal to raise the $31.4tn US debt ceiling last weekend.
A default would be likely to have catastrophic consequences for the US and world economies. The treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, has said that will happen on 5 June if no bill is passed.
But members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus have balked at the deal.
Chip Roy of Texas, who in January played a key role in securing the speakership for McCarthy after 15 rounds of voting, amid a rightwing rebellion, had perhaps the most pungent response.
He said the debt ceiling deal was a "turd sandwich", because it did not include spending cuts demanded by the hard right.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, Roy said he had not changed his mind.
"Right now, it ain't good," he said.
Another rightwing firebrand, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said he "anticipate[d] voting for" the bill, having said: "I think it's important to keep in mind the debt limit bill itself does not spend money."
But a comparative moderate, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, resorted to personal abuse of Biden when she said on Twitter: "Washington is broken. Republicans got outsmarted by a president who can't find his pants. I’m voting no on the debt ceiling debacle because playing the DC game isn't worth selling out our kids and grandkids."
Republicans regularly claim without evidence that Biden, 80, is too old and mentally unfit to be president. Conversely, many political observers have credited Biden and his White House negotiators with pulling off a deal to avoid default while keeping Democrats on the front foot.
Saluting Biden's "capacity to over-perform after an onslaught of negative press and Democratic hand-wringing", the Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin said: "Biden brushed back the litany of outrageous demands, kept his spending agenda and tax increases intact and got his two-year debt limit increase.
"And in making a deal with [McCarthy] Biden helps stoke dissension on the GOP side as the extreme Maga wing denounces the agreement."
Sign up to First Thing
Start the day with the top stories from the US, plus the day's must-reads from across the Guardian
after newsletter promotion
Biden has also faced criticism from progressives and from environmental activists, in the latter case over the inclusion in the deal of approval for a controversial pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia.
"Singling out the Mountain Valley pipeline for approval in a vote about our nation's credit limit is an egregious act," said Peter Anderson of Appalachian Voices, which has charted hundreds of environmental violations by the project.
Republicans control the House by 222-213. By Tuesday afternoon, more than 20 Republicans had said they would vote against the deal. Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has said the party should let default happen if Biden does not cave.
If defections proliferate, McCarthy could be left needing Democratic support to pass the bill arising from the deal and thereby avoid default.
On Tuesday, the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, said his party would do their part to win passage of the bill.
"My expectation is House Republicans will keep their commitment to produce at least two-thirds of their conference which is approximately 150 votes" and pass the bill, Jeffries said. "Democrats are committed to making sure we do our part in avoiding default."
On Tuesday, one of Biden's negotiators, the budget director, Shalanda Young, said the White House "strongly urged" Congress to pass the bill. Wally Adeyemo, the deputy treasury secretary, told MSNBC the deal was a "good faith compromise" that took a debt default off the table.
A White House spokesperson said Biden was having conversations with both progressive and moderate Democrats ahead of a House vote planned for Wednesday.
Markets have reacted positively to the deal so far.
Reuters contributed reportingPrivacy Notice: