US debt ceiling: Hard-line conservatives vow to derail deal

  • By Anthony Zurcher
  • North America correspondent
Image caption,

Chip Roy of Texas promised “a reckoning”

Hard-line conservative Republicans have denounced a bipartisan deal to raise the US debt ceiling and avoid a national default. But President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy still believe they have the votes to pass a bill before the deadline. Here’s how the drama is playing out on Capitol Hill and a guide to what comes next.

When it comes to raising the US debt ceiling and avoiding a national default, reaching a deal between the two parties was an uphill battle. But there are more steep hills to climb.

Now the two leaders – Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy – have to sell their weekend agreement to their members of Congress.

The deal introduces new federal spending limits and restrictions on low-income aid programmes in exchange for a debt-limit increase.

It became clear on Tuesday that this is not a deal that satisfies conservative hard-liners in the House of Representatives. The question is whether there are enough of them in the right spots to have their way.

At a press conference on the steps of the US Capitol on Tuesday, 11 members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus railed against what they viewed as insufficient spending cuts and budget limitations in the compromise legislation.

“This deal fails completely,” said congressman Scott Perry, the leader of the group. He said those who stood with him “will be absolutely opposed to the deal and will do everything in our power to stop it”.

Mr Perry and the other Republicans present did not reveal how many members of their group would vote against the deal, however. They also dodged when asked whether they would call for Mr McCarthy’s removal – a step that would escalate the rift forming among Republicans in the House.

“No matter what happens, there’s going to be a reckoning for what just occurred unless we stop this bill by tomorrow,” congressman Chip Roy of Texas, another Freedom Caucus member, warned.

Video caption,

Watch: The debt ceiling explained – in under 90 seconds

The best chance for firebrand conservatives to smother the compromise bill in its infancy may come on Tuesday evening, as the powerful House Rules Committee considers the terms by which the legislation will be debated and voted on by the full House of Representatives.

Mr Roy and two other members of the Freedom Caucus have seats on this committee, and if they vote with the four Democrats, they could force Mr Biden and Mr McCarthy back to the drawing board with the debt clock ticking down.

Mr Roy and congressman Ralph Norman, another Freedom Caucus member, have already said they plan to oppose the bill in committee.

That leaves congressman Thomas Massie as the pivotal vote. As the committee hearing unfolded, the Kentucky Republican said he is “anticipating” that he will approve the bill. If the remaining Republicans hold ranks, their yes votes would send the bill to the floor of the House.

It appears poised to be a process that stretches into Tuesday evening, however, as the rules committee will have to consider dozens of amendments and addendums to the negotiated deal, any of which – if approved – could sink the carefully calibrated balance agreed by Mr McCarthy and Mr Biden.

If the legislation emerges unscathed, however, these are the remaining steps necessary to end the debt-default crisis:

  • The House of Representatives would hold an up-or-down vote on the bill requiring a simple majority for approval, perhaps as early as Wednesday night
  • The Senate would then take up consideration of the bill. Approval there would require 60 votes out of the 100-member chamber. The process could move quickly, although individual senators could delay the proceedings if they choose
  • If an identical version of the debt agreement is approved by both the House and the Senate, the bill then is transmitted to Mr Biden for his signature

At the moment, rank-and-file members in both the House and Senate appear willing to fall in line.

There may be some defections from left-wing Democrats, who have complained about how the proposed budget cuts fall exclusively on social programmes and objected to the new work requirements on some recipients of low-income aid.

The Democratic hard-liners, however, have been less organised – and less vocal in their objections – than their conservative counterparts.

The Treasury has moved the day the US would hit its limit to Monday 5 June, and for the moment the financial markets appear to have calmed as a resolution appears in sight.

That could quickly change, however, if the multi-step process for approving the debt-limit agreement is derailed or otherwise blocked in the days ahead.

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