POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

House passes debt limit deal as lawmakers race to avert default

May 31, 2023, 7:39 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2023, 9:13 am

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters as he walks through Statuary Hall in the U....

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters as he walks through Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building on May 30 in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(CNN) — The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to pass a bill to suspend the nation’s debt limit through January 1, 2025, as lawmakers race to prevent a catastrophic default.

The bill will next need to be passed by the Senate before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. In the Senate, any one lawmaker can delay a swift vote and it is not yet clear when a final vote will take place.

The timeframe to pass the bill through Congress is extremely tight and there is little room for error, putting enormous pressure on leadership in both parties.

Lawmakers are racing the clock to avert a first-ever default ahead of June 5, the date the Treasury Department has said it will no longer be able to pay all of the nation’s obligations in full and on time, a scenario that could trigger global economic catastrophe.

Suspending the debt limit through 2025 takes the threat of default off table until after the presidential election. In addition to addressing the debt limit, the bill caps non-defense spending, expands work requirements for some food stamp recipients and claws back some Covid-19 relief funds, among other policy provisions.

The bipartisan debt limit deal struck between the White House and House Republicans was announced over the weekend – the culmination of long days and late nights of contentious negotiations that at times looked like they might breakdown and fall apart entirely. The effort to secure a debt limit deal has proven to be a major leadership test for both House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Biden.

The deal has faced backlash from lawmakers on the far left and the far right, but a significant number of members on both sides of the aisle – many of them moderates – have signaled they support the bill.

McCarthy and his top allies expressed confidence ahead of the vote that the deal would pass in the House. “I am confident we will pass the bill,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Earlier Wednesday, the chamber cleared a key hurdle to advance to a final vote when it approved a rule governing floor debate for the debt limit bill. Rules are typically supported by just the majority party and opposed by the minority. But in this case, 52 Democrats voted “yes” to get the rule across the finish line after 29 Republicans voted against it.

Democratic leaders instructed their members to let Republicans put up their votes for the rule first, a source familiar told CNN. The strategy: let Republicans sweat and show how many defections GOP leaders had. The defections exposed deep divisions within the House Republican conference.

Passage of the rule cleared the way for the final House vote on the bill later in the day.

The Congressional Budget Office told McCarthy in a letter Tuesday night that the bill would reduce budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. The letter says that if the bill is enacted, “mandatory spending would, on net, decrease by $10 billion, and revenues would, on net, decrease by $2 billion over the 2023–2033 period,” the agency wrote. “As a consequence, interest on the public debt would decline by $188 billion.” Discretionary spending would be reduced by a projected $1.3 trillion over the 2024-2033 period.

But in a troubling sign for McCarthy, the CBO also warned that changes to the work requirement provisions in the food stamps program “would increase federal spending by about $2.1 billion over the 2023-2033 period.” The bill would increase the upper age limit of the existing work requirement through age 54, but veterans, homeless Americans and former foster youth of all ages would be exempt. Combined, these provisions would increase the number of people receiving benefits by about 78,000 people in an average month during the 2025 to 2030 period, when they were fully in effect, according to the agency.

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House passes debt limit deal as lawmakers race to avert default