Biden and McCarthy race to sell their debt ceiling deal to lawmakers before the government runs out of money
Wilmington, Delaware (CNN) — The White House and Republican leaders in Congress were mounting an intensive push Sunday to consolidate support around an tentative agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, their urgent task made complicated by members of both parties voicing concerns over different provisions.
The “agreement in principle” clinched by House Republicans and the White House late Saturday was the culmination of mad-dash negotiations over the course of the past week that regularly stretched late into the night. Final text of the agreement was hammered out overnight by both sides.
The agreement – which would raise the debt ceiling for two years, freeze spending on domestic programs, increase spending on defense and veterans issues, impose some new work requirements on federal food assistance programs and change some rules around energy permitting – was meant to include provisions that could sway members of both parties to vote for it.
Yet after the deal’s announcement, House members on both the left and right were already balking at some of the details said to be included in the package.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said White House negotiators and Democratic leaders should be concerned about securing progressive support for the deal.
“Yes, they have to worry,” the Washington Democrat told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” pointing to some of the concessions made by the White House to reach a deal, including the expansion of some work requirements for federal food aid.
Meanwhile, Republicans who had demanded larger spending cuts threatened to withhold their support.
“No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote,” Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, posted on Twitter.
“Hard pass. Hold the line,” wrote Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, another Freedom Caucus member.
But South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson, chair of the center-right Republican Main Street Caucus, told CNN on Sunday that GOP lawmakers would “overwhelmingly” support the deal, while suggesting that votes of some party hard-liners were never in play.
“Let’s be honest. Bob Good will not vote for this thing. And it doesn’t matter if Mother Teresa came back from the dead and called him. He’s not voting for it. He was never going to,” Johnson said.
For House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the upcoming battle to secure the votes of at least half of his party’s members – as he has promised – will be a defining moment for his hard-won young speakership.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol on Sunday, McCarthy brushed aside concerns he won’t have enough Republican votes.
“This is a good strong bill that a majority of Republicans will vote for,” the California Republican said.
President Joe Biden, too, was under pressure to deliver votes from Democrats, dozens of which will likely be necessary for the bill to secure passage. An afternoon video call was scheduled for top White House officials to brief Democrats on the contours of the agreement. Biden was expected to speak with McCarthy later Sunday as well.
“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. That’s the responsibility of governing,” Biden wrote in a statement late Saturday, saying the agreement “protects my and congressional Democrats’ key priorities and legislative accomplishments.”
He said he “strongly” urged the House and Senate to pass it.
Biden also spoke Saturday with the top Democrat in the House, New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, who will be responsible for marshaling his members.
A day later, Jeffries stopped short of guaranteeing that a majority of Democrats would get behind the bill.
“I do expect that there will be Democratic support once we have the ability to actually be fully briefed by the White House, but I’m not going to predict what those numbers may ultimately look like,” he told CBS News. “We have to go through a process consistent with respecting every single member of the House of Representatives and their ability to fully understand the resolution that has been reached.”
Speaking late Saturday, McCarthy said text of the package would be finalized by Sunday, setting up a required 72-hour period for members of Congress to review the bill. He said he hopes the House will vote as soon as Wednesday, allowing precious little time for each party’s leaders to secure sufficient support.
In the Senate, any one member can slow down the process by as long as a week, adding another layer of uncertainty as Washington rushes to avoid default.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen set June 5 as the date the government will run out of cash to pay its bills in full and on time. The US has never before defaulted, and economists predict the consequences would be catastrophic.
Republicans in the conservative House Freedom Caucus have already warned they are prepared for a furious battle if they consider the compromise a major retreat from the Republican position. Ahead of the deal’s announcement, they raised alarms over the length of the proposed debt ceiling hike and the push to roll back spending to 2023 levels, when many wanted to cap spending at 2022 levels.
“It is going to be a substantial price to earn my vote and that price is the meaningful, substantial, transformative fiscal reform necessary,” said Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, a conservative and member of the House Rules Committee, on Thursday.
One conservative House Republican, Rep. Dan Bishop, predicted smaller cuts to spending would amount to “war.”
The agreement in principle reached by the White House and House Republicans will lift the debt limit for two years and roughly cap non-defense spending to current fiscal year levels for 2024 and 2025, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
As part of the deal, the White House has also appeared to have made concessions to House Republican negotiators on work requirements for people receiving food stamps.
The agreement reached on Saturday phases in food stamp time limits on people up to age 54 that will then sunset in 2030, while also exempting veterans and people who are homeless from these limits. The current work requirement for the program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, only applies to certain adults between the ages 18-49.
The agreement does not make any changes to Medicaid and prevented certain changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program called for by Republicans.
Still, many Democrats have warned that additional work requirements on social safety net programs are a nonstarter, and the White House lambasted the GOP position on the idea as “cruel and senseless” last week.
“I think it is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this,” Jayapal said Sunday. “At the end of the day, you know, perhaps this will – because of the exemptions – perhaps it will be OK. I can’t commit to that, I really don’t know.”
This story has been updated with additional reaction.