House Republicans pass US debt bill, push Biden to spend

By LISA MASCARO and KEVIN FREKING (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Wednesday passed sweeping legislation that would raise the statutory government debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion in exchange for steep spending curbs, a tactical victory for Speaker Kevin McCarthy as he challenges President Joe Biden to negotiate and prevent a catastrophic federal. default this summer.

Biden has threatened to veto the Republican package, which has little chance of passing the Democratic Senate anyway, and the president has so far refused to negotiate the debt ceiling, which the White House insists must be raised without quarter to ensure America gets its pay. banknotes.

But McCarthy’s ability to quickly consolidate his slim majority and pass the measure in the face of Democratic opposition and even restraint in his own party lends itself to the Republican speaker’s strategy of using the vote as an opening bid, forcing Biden to enter into discussions. The two men could hardly be further apart on how to solve the problem.

The bill passed by a slim 217-215 margin.

“We did our job,” McCarthy said at the U.S. Capitol after the vote.

“The president can no longer ignore if he does not negotiate,” he said. “Now they should sit down and negotiate.”

As the House debated the measure, Biden indicated Wednesday that he was willing to open the door to talks with McCarthy, but not to prevent a first U.S. default that would shake America’s economy and beyond.

“I’m happy to meet with McCarthy, but not on whether or not to extend the debt limit,” Biden said. “That’s not negotiable.”

Passage of the sprawling 320-page package in the House is just the start of what is expected to be a week-long political task as the president and Congress try to reach a compromise that would allow the nation’s debt, now at $31 trillion of dollars, be eliminated to allow additional borrowing and prevent a fiscal crisis.

The nation has never paid off its debt, and the House Republican majority hopes to corner Biden with his plan to cut federal spending to fiscal 2022 levels and limit future spending increases to 1 percent over the next decade, among other changes.

McCarthy worked nonstop to unite his vanishing Republican majority, the “five families,” including the conservative Freedom Caucus and others, making after-midnight changes in the House Rules Committee in a scramble to win over the holdouts.

Faced with an outcry from Midwestern Republicans over the elimination of biofuel tax credits that had just been signed into law last year by Democrat Biden, House GOP members relented and allowed the tax credits to remain on the books in their bill.

“Our delegation stood united for Iowa farmers and producers fighting to amend the bill to protect biofuel tax credits,” the four Iowa Republicans said in a joint statement announcing their support for the bill.

Republicans also agreed to more quickly roll out strengthened work requirements for government aid recipients starting in 2024, as proposed by another holdout, Freedom Caucus Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — who led earlier challenges to McCarthy and ultimately voted against the bill.

Republicans hold a five-seat majority in the House and faced several absences this week, leaving McCarthy with almost no votes. In the end, the speaker lost four Republican “no” votes and all Democrats opposed.

“This bill is unacceptable, unreasonable, unworkable, unconscionable — and un-American,” said Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. “That’s why we oppose it.”

Democrats derided the Republican plan as a “ransom note,” a “ransom” and a “frivolous bill” that pandered to financial peril.

But as McCarthy worked to shore up support, some of the most conservative Republicans among them who have never voted for a debt ceiling hike in their bid to cut spending said they were preparing to do just that , rallying behind the speaker’s strategy. to push Biden to the negotiating table.

Rep. Ralph Norman, RS.C., a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he “wanted to double down” on the deficit savings contained in the bill, but he would vote for it “because it starts the ball rolling, it puts us in the arena to fix it. the debt problem.”

It’s the first big test for the Republican president and speaker, coming at a time of heightened political anxiety about Washington’s ability to tackle big issues amid the need to raise the federal debt limit within weeks.

The Treasury Department is taking “extraordinary measures” to pay the bills, but funding is expected to run out this summer. Economists warn that even the serious threat of a federal debt default would send shock waves through the economy.

In exchange for raising the debt limit by $1.5 trillion in 2024, the bill would reduce overall federal spending and:

— Recover unspent COVID-19 funds.

— Imposing stricter work requirements on recipients of food stamps and other government assistance.

— Stop Biden’s plans to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans and

— Ending many of the renewable energy tax cuts that Biden signed last year. It would tackle a sweeping Republican bill to boost oil, gas and coal production.

A nonpartisan analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Republican plan would reduce federal deficits by $4.8 trillion over the decade if the proposed changes were passed into law.

Several Republicans on the right of the party, eager for even tighter spending cuts, said the bill was at least a starting point as they prepared to vote for McCarthy’s strategy and support his hand in talks with Biden.

Freshman Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., said, “It is our obligation to bring President McCarthy to the table.”

Others, however, were left without commitment or without justice.

Rep. Andy Biggs, the former chairman of the Freedom Caucus who voted against the bill, said he wished Republicans would do more to end deficit spending. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., also a “no” vote, said of the nation’s nearly $32 trillion debt, “that’s my major concern.”

In the Senate, leaders watched and waited.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said passing the legislation in the House would be a “wasted effort” and that McCarthy should come to the table with Democrats to pass a straight debt limit bill without GOP priorities and for to avoid by default.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who stepped aside to give McCarthy the lead, said the speaker was able to unite House Republicans.

Now, he said, Biden and McCarthy must come to an agreement. Otherwise, he said, “We will be at a standstill. And we shouldn’t do that to the country.”

In a statement late Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said congressional Republicans “must act immediately and unconditionally to avoid default. … That’s their job.”


Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Mary Clare Jalonick and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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