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Debt limit deal moves toward House vote despite GOP revolt

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters about the proposed debt limit bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 30.KENNY HOLSTON/NYT

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan deal to suspend the federal debt ceiling advanced on Tuesday night toward a climactic House vote despite a rebellion by hard-right Republicans who said the party was squandering a chance to force fundamental changes in government spending.

In the legislation’s first test, the House Rules Committee voted to clear the way for debate on the plan to be held Wednesday. Seven Republicans voted to send the measure on, while two others joined with Democrats to oppose doing so.

“Not one Republican should vote for this bill,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, an influential member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, said hours before the committee vote. “We will continue to fight it today, tomorrow, and no matter what happens, there’s going to be a reckoning about what just occurred unless we stop this bill by tomorrow.”


Roy and Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, another ultraconservative member of the panel, broke with their party to oppose allowing the plan to be considered, but a third right-wing Republican on the committee, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, voted to move it to the floor despite some misgivings.

It was a boost to Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s effort to push through the agreement that he hammered out with President Joe Biden in days of difficult talks, and which must pass the House and clear the Senate by Monday to be enacted in time to avert a default.

The compromise has drawn the ire of right-wing Republicans, leaving open the possibility that its passage could jeopardize McCarthy’s standing on Capitol Hill, where any one lawmaker has the power to call a snap vote to oust him thanks to a rule McCarthy agreed to while he was grasping for support from the far right to be elected speaker in January. Some prominent conservatives said a challenge to his leadership now would be premature, but one member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, said Tuesday that he considered the debt and spending deal grounds for ousting McCarthy from his post.


“I’m fed up with the lies. I’m fed up with the lack of courage, the cowardice,” Bishop said, adding later of McCarthy’s negotiations on the debt limit bill, “Nobody could have done a worse job.”

Despite the outcry, McCarthy continued to express optimism that the legislation would pass, shrugging off the criticism and dismissing any concern for his own survival with a terse “no” during brief comments at the Capitol.

“I’m confident we’ll pass the bill,” McCarthy told reporters. Ticking off what he described as major savings in the package, he added: “If people are against saving all that money, or work reforms in welfare reform — I can’t do anything about that.”

With some Republicans in an uproar as more details of the compromise trickled out, the Biden administration was treading carefully, hailing the agreement as a good one while emphasizing that neither side emerged with an overwhelming victory over the other.

“We are in divided government,” said Shalanda Young, the White House budget director who was a chief negotiator of the package. “This is what happens in divided government. They get to have an opinion and we get to have an opinion, and all things equal, I think this compromise agreement is reasonable for both sides.”

Even as McCarthy battled to line up support, new details of the deal were emerging that threatened to further undermine GOP support. The Congressional Budget Office estimated on Tuesday that the package would reduce the accumulation of debt by about $1.5 trillion over the course of a decade, largely by cutting and capping certain discretionary spending for two years. It also said a series of changes in work requirements for food stamp eligibility — tightening them for some adults, but loosening them for others including veterans — would actually increase federal spending on the program by $2 billion.


While Republicans demanded stricter work requirements be a part of the compromise, the White House bargained to lessen the impact, and the budget office estimated that overall, the deal would increase the ranks of the program, making an additional 78,000 people eligible for nutrition assistance.

Even after avoiding a blockade by his own party in the Rules Committee, McCarthy was still facing a steep challenge in rounding up the 218 votes needed to pass the plan on the floor. Republican opposition was coming from beyond the most conservative wing of the party, including from some members seen as closely aligned with the speaker.

“The concessions made by the speaker in his negotiations with President Biden fall far short of my expectations and the expectations of my friends and neighbors in Congressional District 38,” Rep. Wesley Hunt, a first-term Republican from Texas who backed McCarthy in the speaker’s fight, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.


The backlash to the plan from the right appeared to be fueled in part by mounting public opposition from conservative advocacy groups with strong ties to Republican lawmakers, including the Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. The groups were promising to include the vote in their ratings of lawmakers, effectively threatening to downgrade anyone who supported it.

“The legislation does not meet the moment, and I urge House Republicans to reconsider their support and take a stand to stop reckless spending,” said Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks.

With Republicans experiencing ample defections, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the minority leader, warned that they would still have to deliver a significant number of votes in support.

“Initially we heard that 95% of the House Republican conference would support the agreement,” said Jeffries, alluding to a comment McCarthy made after briefing his rank and file about the deal. “That doesn’t appear to be the case. But what we are also committed to making sure occurs is that the House Republicans keep their promise to produce at least 150 votes.”

As for where Democrats stood, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the group was polling its members to decide whether to take an official position on the bill. She said the legislation included provisions that she and her members were extremely concerned about, including restrictions on nutritional assistance programs and the greenlighting of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, but did not vow to oppose it.

The bill was finalized Sunday after Biden and McCarthy sealed their deal, and aides rushed to draft it into legislation that will have to be considered swiftly to avoid a default as soon as June 5, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has estimated the federal government will run out of cash to pay its bills without action by Congress.


The rules panel was just one of the hurdles the legislation will have to clear in what is likely to be a nearly weeklong push to passage before Monday.

With dozens of Republicans declaring their opposition, the bill will need a combination of Republican and Democratic votes to pass the House. It would then head to the Senate, where conservative Republicans are also unhappy with the framework and can at minimum slow its passage with procedural tactics.

“Conservatives have been sold out once again!” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been known to throw up procedural obstacles to legislation in the past, declared on Twitter.

As senators sifted through the legislation, there was growing unease among Republican senators that the level of Pentagon spending was too low, according to an aide who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations, and who said the reservations did not appear to be enough to derail the bill with a default looming.

Biden sought to relieve concerns about military spending Monday, telling reporters at the White House that “obviously if there’s any existential need for additional funding, I have no doubt we’ll be able to get it.”

He remained confident the legislation would be approved before a default.

“There is no reason it shouldn’t get done by the 5th,” he said. “I’m confident that we’ll get a vote in both houses and we’ll see.”

But the outcry from the House conservatives was looming as a threat to the package if it stirred other factions among House Republicans to join in.

“Absolutely and completely unacceptable,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chair of the Freedom Caucus, in describing the legislation. “Trillions and trillions of dollars in debt for crumbs. For a pittance.”