US lawmakers consider debt ceiling deal

Republican Representatives Scott Perry and Chip Roy discuss the debt limit deal during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 30, 2023. [AP Photo]

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday began considering legislation to suspend the government's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling until early 2025 so it can borrow more money to keep paying the country's bills, as White House officials welcomed the deal reached through fraught negotiations that brought the U.S. to the brink of defaulting before it is predicted to run out of money in coming days.

"This was no easy task to get here," said Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, who was part of the administration's negotiating team. "But what was on the line for the American people is real. I know I breathe a little easier. I called my parents, told them to breathe a little easier that a deal had been reached."

Now, Young said, "We strongly urge both chambers to pass the bill and send it to the president's desk."

Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who both negotiated the debt ceiling deal, are urging its passage and say they think they have the needed votes. But some liberal Democratic lawmakers are complaining the deal cuts too much in social welfare spending, while conservative Republicans are grumbling it trims too little.

First up is a vote Tuesday afternoon in the 13-member House Rules Committee, which typically sets the terms of the debate by the full House, such as whether amendments can be offered on any legislation. Approval by the panel, with nine Republicans and four Democrats, is normally just a procedural step to advance legislation favored by McCarthy to the full 435-member House.

But two of the Republicans named to the committee by McCarthy have already declared their opposition to the increase in the debt limit, which could presage a close tally by the panel on advancing the measure - depending on how the four Democratic lawmakers on the committee vote.

In politically divided Washington, the four Democrats have typically rejected advancing any measure favored by McCarthy and Republicans, but in this case, the debt ceiling agreement was reached by Biden's negotiators with McCarthy and his associates.

McCarthy said on Monday he was not worried the Rules Committee would kill the bill.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told Congress the measure must pass by June 5, the point at which she says the government will run out of cash to pay its bills and would sustain the country's first-ever default. Analysts say a default would lead to a cut in the country's top-of-the-line AAA credit rating, roil world stock markets, and force the government to decide which bills to pay.

Assuming the House Rules Committee advances the legislation, McCarthy has set a full House vote for Wednesday, with the Senate planning to vote later in the week.

Representative Stephanie Bice, a Republican vote counter, said she is confident the measure will pass.

"It is a true negotiation and reflective of divided government," she told reporters, referencing the fact that Democrats control the White House and Senate, while Republicans hold an edge in the House.

But some hard-right Republicans adamantly rejected any support for the deal and blamed McCarthy for agreeing with Biden on far fewer of the spending cuts than House Republicans had approved in debt ceiling legislation laying out their priorities.

"Not one Republican should vote for this bill," Representative Chip Roy, a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters outside the Capitol. "We will continue to fight it today, tomorrow, and no matter what happens, there's going to be a reckoning about what just occurred unless we stop this bill by tomorrow."

Another member of the group, Representative Dan Bishop, said he thinks McCarthy should be ousted from the speakership because of his role in the negotiations.

"I'm fed up with the lies," Bishop said. "I'm fed up with the lack of courage, the cowardice." He contended, "Nobody could have done a worse job" in the negotiations with the White House than McCarthy.

The proposal includes waiving the existing borrowing limit until January 2025 and a two-year budget deal that keeps federal spending flat in the fiscal year starting in October and increases it by 1% in the following 12 months into 2025.

Other pieces of the compromise package include a reduction in the hiring of more agents at the country's tax collection agency, a requirement that states return $30 billion in unspent coronavirus pandemic assistance to the federal government, and extending from 50 to 54 the upper age bracket for those required to work in order to receive food aid.

"The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis - a default - for the first time in our nation's history," Biden said at the White House on Sunday. It "takes the threat of a catastrophic default off the table."

"The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. But that's the responsibility of governing," Biden said in a statement. He called the pact "an important step forward that reduces spending while protecting critical programs for working people and growing the economy for everyone."

McCarthy, discussing the deal at the Capitol, said, "At the end of the day, people can look together to be able to pass this."

He told the "Fox News Sunday" show that from Republicans' perspective, "There's so much in this that is positive. It will not do everything for everyone, but this is a step in the right direction."