Debt ceiling deal faces first hurdle in Republican-led House

In the first test of a bipartisan deal on the debt ceiling, a key House committee will meet Tuesday to determine whether the agreement comes to a full vote, all while the country inches closer to next week’s default deadline.

The House Rules Committee — typically the first stop before legislation can go before the full House — will convene with attention fixed on a handful of far-right Republicans who could thwart the future of a deal struck over the weekend by President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Two of the committee’s nine GOP members — Reps. Ralph Norman (S.C.) and Chip Roy (Tex.) — belong to the Freedom Caucus and have come out against the deal. The Freedom Caucus is expected to hold a news conference at noon Tuesday. But so far, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian-minded conservative who sometimes sides with the Freedom Caucus, seems to support the deal. His vote would give Republicans enough support to adopt the rule, since the four Democrats on the committee aren’t expected to offer their support on this procedural step.

The deal struck by Biden and McCarthy would raise the debt ceiling for two years — beyond the 2024 elections — allowing the government to pay its bills. In a concession to Republicans, the bill would limit domestic spending for two years and impose some new work requirements for certain individuals receiving food stamps and those in the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program.

The bill would fast-track a new natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia, a key goal of Republicans and a plan championed by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). It also would pare back roughly $20 billion of the $80 billion approved last year for an expansion of the IRS, another concession to Republicans.

The bill would allow an increase in spending for defense, similar to what Biden requested in his budget on March 9, as well as veterans affairs.

The S&P 500 rose slightly Tuesday morning, on the first day stock market trading resumed after the tentative deal was announced.

House lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill after an eventful holiday weekend in Washington. For days, debt ceiling negotiators from the GOP and White House clashed, and then compromised, until the eventual release of the 99-page bill Sunday evening. By that point, Republican and Democratic leaders were already in the thick of whipping support from their rank-and-file, holding conference calls and circulating talking points to tout their respective wins.

For the White House, the deal did not give into Republican demands for steep cuts on domestic spending, and raised the debt ceiling beyond the 2024 election. Republicans, meanwhile, are celebrating an agreement that claws back some money for the IRS and increases some work requirements in federal aid programs, such as food stamps.

Asked whether he was confident that the debt ceiling deal would pass Congress, Biden on Monday replied, “I feel very good about it.” He said he had spoken with a number of lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has expressed his crucial support.

On Tuesday, McCarthy spoke optimistically about the bill passing the House Rules Committee and downplayed criticism from some House Republicans that he failed to lock in enough spending cuts.

“We’re going to do it tonight,” McCarthy said on the “Hugh Hewitt Show” podcast. “Look, there’s nothing in here that we should be afraid of. There’s nothing in here we have to hide. We’re going to walk everybody through. Would everybody want more? Yeah. But you know what? This is the biggest cut we’ve ever got, and we protect military and our veterans.”

As they worked the phones, party leadership urged their colleagues to move fast enough to assure passage by June 5. That’s the point at which the U.S. government will run out of money to make all of its payments, according to the latest estimates from the Treasury Department.

In a statement of support for the bill, the Biden administration urged Congress to pass the bill “as soon as possible to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”

“A default could have catastrophic impacts on every single part of this country,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement Tuesday. “It could lead to an economic recession, devastate retirement accounts, and cost our Nation millions of jobs.”

To avoid a disastrous default, McCarthy would need the support of a “majority of the majority,” or at least half of the 222 Republicans in the House, even to bring the bill to the floor. He could lose up to 111 of his own party members, but then would need up to 107 Democratic votes.

A handful of House Republicans, including Reps. Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Wesley Hunt (Tex.), voiced their opposition to the bill Tuesday, underscoring the challenge McCarthy faces to round up the necessary votes even within his own party. The Republican Study Committee, which is the largest ideological faction of House Republicans, will not formally take a position on the debt compromise nor whip support for or against the bill, a sign that a majority of the 170 lawmakers could vote either way on it.

A vote on the House floor could come Wednesday, at which point the Senate would take up the measure. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has warned of a weekend vote to get the legislation passed in time.

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