The House passed legislation Wednesday to raise the nation’s borrowing limit through 2024, sending it to the Senate with less than six days until a June 5 default deadline.
The vote united a swath of Republicans and Democrats, and was opposed by a swath of conservative and progressive lawmakers, with a few of the former floating an attempt to strip Speaker Kevin McCarthy of his gavel over the bipartisan debt agreement he negotiated.
The hurdles aren’t over yet. Senate leaders will need to cut their own deal with conservatives in their chamber to get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk on time.
But passing the bill marks the House’s biggest bipartisan victory since Republicans took over the chamber this year. Until now, McCarthy’s repeated wrangling of members has mostly been on a series of messaging bills with no Democratic support and no chance at becoming law. And he faced plenty of questions on whether he could get enough Republican support for the debt plan.
“Don’t miss out. Don’t sit back and think, ‘I wanted something so much more,’” McCarthy said, describing his pitch to members. “Yeah, there’s a lot of things I want, too, but this is one that moves us in the right direction.”
In the end, McCarthy lost 71 House Republicans. But the bill easily passed with support from over a hundred Democrats, who were torn between voting for a bill that includes some policies they oppose or risking a default.
“I have mixed emotions because, on one hand, I think that what our colleagues are doing is punitive and just bad for a country. But I also recognize the importance of protecting the full faith and credit of my country,” said Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.).
But there was still plenty of internal GOP drama, despite the pre-baked outcome.
In addition to raising the debt ceiling until Jan. 1, 2025, the debt bill sets top-line spending levels for two years. It also, among other provisions, automatically cuts government funding by one percent absent spending bills passed by Jan. 1. Republicans have also touted new work requirements and other restrictions for certain social safety net programs.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and other senior Republicans also tried to prevent a potential last-minute revolt after a CBO score projected the work requirement changes in the bill would actually increase spending for the key food aid program, due to exemptions for veterans, homeless people and young adults recently aged out of foster care, according to CBO.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus also formally came out against the legislation just hours before the vote, making a doomed pitch for their colleagues to sink the bill and “force Democrats back to the negotiating table.”
Referring to it as the “Biden-McCarthy debt limit deal,” the conservative block argued that McCarthy’s “mandate” in the negotiations was to secure more wins compared to a sweeping GOP-only debt bill that cleared the House in April.
“The Biden-McCarthy deal totally fails to deliver on that mandate and threatens to shatter Republican unity,” they wrote.
McCarthy made a swaggering pitch to his members during a closed-door hours-long conference meeting Tuesday night, which several GOP lawmakers compared to a pep rally meant to drive up support for the agreement.
But that did little to appease his most ardent holdouts. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said afterward that “the cheering doesn’t move me.” And Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), another “no” vote, added “I’m not voting to set the baseline spending at historic highs. I’m still a no.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) also railed against the deal Wednesday, saying that “my beef is that you cut a deal that shouldn’t have been cut.”
Some of McCarthy’s fiercest detractors also raised the prospect of trying to oust him from the speakership — a likely doomed effort but one that still threatens to reopen old wounds from the high-drama fight over the House gavel.
McCarthy and his team worked up until the vote to try to drive up the number of Republicans who would support the deal. The more GOP yeas he put on the board, the more leadership could isolate the small crop of conservatives contemplating mutiny — strengthening McCarthy’s hand as he heads into new governing challenges, not to mention the 2024 elections.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of the lead GOP negotiators, said he wasn’t worried about McCarthy being ousted, arguing that he had been constantly “underestimated.”
“The week of the speaker’s vote, the lack of negotiation, there have been multiple times this calendar year alone that he’s been underestimated. The vote tonight will prove out why that is the wrong proposition here,” McHenry said.
Meredith Lee Hill, Nicholas Wu and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.