House Debates Debt Ceiling Raise, Spending Cuts as Final Vote Approaches

The National Desk - May 31, 2023 5:27 pm

FILE - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to reporters about debt limit negotiations, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Members of both parties debated the merits and drawbacks of a new debt and budget bill Wednesday afternoon before a final vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

The “Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023” contains the agreement reached by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, and President Joe Biden over raising the debt ceiling ahead of a government default around June 5 while also putting a limit on government spending. Both major branches of the deal would last into 2025.

While the Treasury Department initially forecast the government would reach its borrowing limit on Thursday, earlier this month Secretary Janet Yellen moved that date to June 5. If Congress is unable to pass an agreement to raise the debt ceiling – the amount of money the U.S. government can borrow to pay off its existing debts – by that date, the U.S. would be forced to default, which would not only almost certainly lead to a recession but also a global economic upheaval. However, since the U.S. has never defaulted before, economists do not know what the extent of such economic consequences would be.

The president and Speaker announced late Saturday that the pair reached an “agreement in principle” after weeks of intense negotiations and months of trading barbs through the press. While not the “clean” lift of the debt limit sought by Biden, McCarthy also gave up stronger Republicans demands for cuts to federal spending projects and caps on ongoing spending levels. The bill passed its first hurdle to become law Tuesday night when it barely passed out of the House Rules Committee in a 7-6 vote, with two Republicans from the House Freedom Caucus joining all Democrats on the panel in opposition of the bill.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act would suspend the debt ceiling until 2025, even raising it by $4 trillion over the next two years, while keeping federal spending levels roughly flat for fiscal year 2024 and raising them by 1% for fiscal year 2025. The legislation also raises the upper age limit for work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 49 to 54 by 2025 (with those requirements reversing in 2030), ends the freeze on federal student loan payments, cut $10 billion in IRS funding and re-allocate $30 billion in unused COVID-19 relief funds.

Now that the bill is on the floor, and despite statements of confidence by the president and the speaker that it will pass, the vote Wednesday night will be the greatest challenge of McCarthy’s speakership since the 15 rounds of ballots it took for him to become speaker.

Hard-right members of the House Republicans, including many members of the Freedom Caucus – who were the main objectors to McCarthy’s bid for speakership – criticized the Fiscal Responsibility Act for not taking spending cuts and caps far enough, and for McCarthy’s role in proposing a $4 trillion increase to the debt ceiling.

“We got absolutely destroyed in this negotiation,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said on Twitter. “No sensible conservative can vote for this.”

“Absolutely no one wants to default but this current deal is unacceptable,” tweeted Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla. “I have read this bill twice and as the language currently stands, I will be voting no to raise the debt ceiling.”

Another potential thorn in the deal’s side came from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which revealed in its “score” of the Fiscal Responsibility Act that the proposed work requirements would increase federal spending by around $2.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Other hardline Republicans took the rhetoric further, with some like Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., telling a far-right cable news channel Tuesday night that if McCarthy passes the bill with minimal Republican support, he would be in violation of the deal he struck with the Freedom Caucus to gain the speakership and would likely rapidly lead to a motion to vacate (the procedure by which any member can call for the speaker’s ouster).

Far-left members of the Democrats voiced their frustrations with the deal in recent days, as well, especially members of the Progressive Caucus over the SNAP work requirements.

I told the president that this is saying to poor people and people who are in need that we don’t trust them. And the average amount of assistance for SNAP, for example, is $6 a day,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I mean, we’re talking about $6 a day. And I think it is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this.”

However, House leadership for both parties stressed Wednesday the nature of achieving legislative goals under divided government and urged members to pass the bill in its current form.

It doesn’t get everything everybody wanted, but in a divided government, that’s where we end up,” McCarthy said Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said in a press conference Wednesday morning that – despite opposition from some members of his party – he supports the debt ceiling bill “without hesitation, reservation, or trepidation. Not because it’s perfect. But in divided government, we, of course, cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

Jeffries also praised Biden for his good work under the circumstances for “protecting some key priorities and values for the well-being of the American people.”

The bill did also receive praise from more rank-and-file members, with Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga., praising it in an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is not a win for the Republican or Democratic party; it is a win for the American people, which is why I will proudly vote yes as a down payment on the broader goal of our conference to restore fiscal sanity in Washington,” Carter wrote.

If the bill passes, it still faces another uphill battle in the Senate. Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., voiced their opposition to the legislation Wednesday. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, obtained the co-sign of 42 fellow GOP senators earlier this month to oppose raising the debt limit without “substantive spending and budget reforms” to accompany in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

While Lee has not stated he will not vote for the current deal, he told a far-right podcaster Tuesday, “You’ll see this bill does not do what it claims it does. This juice is not worth the squeeze and there’s not a whole lot of juice in it.”

The House is scheduled for its final vote on the bill around 8 p.m. EST.

Read the full text of the bill here.


Latest Stories

NOC Fine Arts Presenting ‘Puffs’ at NOC Tonkawa

The Northern Oklahoma Division of Fine Arts presents “Puffs” Sept. 28- Oct. 1 at the Kinzer...

“Ride For The Kids” Trail Ride Helping Local Families at Christmas

The 3rd Annual “Ride For The Kids” toy drive and trail ride will help local kids...


We’re just three days away from the government either coming to a decision or shutting down....