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Democrats Side with McCarthy to Push Debt Bill Through House - But Now It Faces Another Hurdle

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Veering away from a default crisis, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a debt ceiling and budget cuts package, sending the deal that President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated to the Senate for passage before a fast-approaching deadline.

The hard-fought compromise pleased few, but lawmakers assessed it was better than the alternative — a potentially devastating economic upheaval if Congress failed to act.

Tensions ran high as conservative Republicans refused the deal, but Biden and McCarthy assembled a bipartisan coalition to push to passage on a robust 314-117 vote.

“We did pretty dang good,” McCarthy, a California Republican, said afterward.

Amid deep discontent from Republicans who said the spending restrictions did not go far enough, McCarthy said it is only a “first step.”

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Biden, watching the tally from Colorado Springs where he is scheduled to deliver the commencement address Thursday at the U.S. Air Force Academy, phoned McCarthy and the other congressional leaders after the vote.

In a statement, he called the outcome “good news for the American people and the American economy.”

Washington is rushing after a long slog of debate to wrap up work on the package to ensure the government can keep paying its bills, and prevent potential financial upheaval at home and abroad. Next Monday is when the Treasury has said the U.S. would run short of money and risk default.

Biden had been calling lawmakers directly to shore up backing. McCarthy worked to sell skeptical fellow Republicans, even fending off challenges to his leadership.

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A similar bipartisan effort from Democrats and Republicans will be needed in the Senate to overcome objections.

Overall, the 99-page bill would make some inroads in curbing the nation’s deficits as Republicans demanded, without rolling back Trump-era tax breaks as Biden wanted. To pass it, Biden and McCarthy counted on support from the political center, a rarity in divided Washington.

A compromise, the package restricts spending for the next two years, suspends the debt ceiling into January 2025 and changes some policies, including imposing new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and greenlighting an Appalachian natural gas line that many Democrats oppose. It bolsters funds for defense and veterans, and guts new money for Internal Revenue Service agents.

Raising the nation’s debt limit, now $31 trillion, ensures Treasury can borrow to pay already incurred U.S. debts.

Top GOP deal negotiator Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana said Republicans were fighting for budget cuts after the past years of extra spending, first during the COVID-19 crisis and later with Biden’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, with its massive spending increases to fight climate change, supposedly paid for with revenues elsewhere.

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But Republican Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the Freedom Caucus helping to lead the opposition, said, “My beef is that you cut a deal that shouldn’t have been cut.”

For weeks negotiators labored late into the night to strike the deal with the White House, and for days McCarthy has worked to build support among skeptics. At one point, aides wheeled in pizza at the Capitol the night before the vote as McCarthy walked Republicans through the details, fielded questions and encouraged them not to lose sight of the bill’s budget savings.

The speaker has faced a tough crowd. Cheered on by conservative senators and outside groups, some members of the House Freedom Caucus lambasted the compromise as falling well short of the needed spending cuts, and they vowed to try to halt passage.

A much larger conservative faction, the Republican Study Committee, declined to take a position. Even rank-and-file centrist conservatives were unsure, leaving McCarthy searching for votes from his slim Republican majority.

Ominously, some conservatives warned of possibly trying to oust McCarthy over the compromise.

One influential Republican, former President Donald Trump, held his fire: “It is what it is,” he said of the deal in an interview with Iowa radio host Simon Conway.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said it was up to McCarthy to turn out Republican votes in the 435-member chamber, where 218 votes are needed for approval.

As the tally faltered on an afternoon procedural vote, Jeffries stood silently and raised his green voting card, signaling that the Democrats would fill in the gap to ensure passage. They did, advancing the bill that some Republicans, including many from the Freedom Caucus, refused to back.

Then, on the final vote hours later, Democrats again ensured passage. Seventy-one Republicans bucked their majority and voted against it.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the spending restrictions in the package would reduce deficits by $1.5 trillion over the decade, a top goal for the Republicans trying to curb the debt load.

In a surprise that complicated Republicans’ support, however, the CBO said their drive to impose work requirements on older Americans receiving food stamps would end up boosting spending by $2.1 billion over the time period because the final deal exempts veterans and homeless people, expanding the food stamp rolls by 78,000 people monthly, the CBO said. Those exemptions were pushed by Democrats.

Liberal discontent, though, ran strong as nearly four dozen Democrats also broke away, decrying the new work requirements for older Americans, those 50-54, in the food aid program.

Some Democrats were also incensed that the White House negotiated into the deal changes to the landmark National Environmental Policy Act and approval of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline natural gas project.

The energy development is important to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., but many others oppose it, claiming it is unhelpful in fighting climate change.

On Wall Street, stock prices were down Wednesday.

In the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are working for passage by week’s end.

Schumer warned there is ”no room for error.”

Some senators, who have remained largely on the sidelines during much of the negotiations, are insisting on amendments to reshape the package, which could pose a major hurdle to final passage.

But making any changes at this stage seemed unrealistic with so little time to spare before Monday’s deadline.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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