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White House, McCarthy sell debt limit deal

Biden, House speaker work to get congressional support by MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, PAUL KANE, JULIAN MARK AND MERYL KORNFIELD THE WASHINGTON POST | May 30, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters outside his office following his discussions at the White House with President Joe Biden on the impasse over the government's debt ceiling, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday evening, May 22, 2023. President Joe Biden and McCarthy came to an “agreement in principle” on the debt limit Saturday, May 27 that would avert a potentially disastrous U.S. default, but still has to pass both houses of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Republican and Democratic negotiators spent Memorial Day working on cementing congressional support to pass a deal to raise the debt ceiling and trim federal spending ahead of a disastrous default expected next Monday if the deal fails.

The legislation, which was publicly released Sunday evening, accomplishes much for President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., enabling both to tout a victory that appeared elusive just days ago.

For Biden, the deal avoids the headache of another debt ceiling debate this term, while staving off Republican demands for steep cuts to domestic spending. McCarthy gets a deal that curtails federal spending and increases some work requirements in federal aid programs, such as food stamps. For the next fiscal year, the bill matches Biden's proposed defense budget of $886 billion. The bill would also rescind about $30 billion in unspent coronavirus relief money and cut a chunk of the money allocated to the IRS to hunt down wealthy tax cheats.

Both leaders spent some of Memorial Day making phone calls to shore up support from their parties.

The bill faces a tricky path to final passage, which must happen by June 5, when the federal government will exhaust funding to pay its bills. McCarthy needs 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 to pass the bill.

McCarthy returned to the Capitol on Monday morning but provided no new details. He went to his office to continue the work of selling the bill to fellow Republicans.

House Republicans had already begun to reach out to members who have publicly expressed opposition, as well as others on their radar who could be persuaded. Leaders of each of the Republican ideological factions are working to get a sense of where their membership stands ahead of their return to the Capitol this evening, when leaders will work to whip up support among apparent holdouts.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., who chairs the conservative centrist Main Street Caucus group, said leadership and their allies are working the phones, sitting down with members and "working through the bill," specifically noting how some defense hawks have concerns that military spending will not be increased significantly.

"This thing will absolutely pass," Johnson said. "I've taken [it] to dozen of members and, listen, not every single member is on board ... We've got a big diversity of opinions in the U.S. House. Some people are going to vote no, but a lot more are going to vote yes."

Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., echoed that point, stressing, "how can [Republicans] not be comfortable with the $2.1 trillion in savings?"

On "Fox News Sunday," McCarthy brushed off criticism from some House Republicans that he had failed to extract sufficient spending cuts, saying: "Well, that's OK, because more than 95 percent of all those in the conference were very excited." He continued to confidently project throughout the day that he would have all the necessary Republican votes and that far-right members of his conference would not move to vacate him as speaker.

"In divided government, that's where we end up," he said in a separate interview. "I think it's a very positive bill."


Biden also spent Memorial Day working the phones, talking with lawmakers about the debt ceiling, according to a White House official. He was also getting updated several times a day, the official added.

As Biden was leaving the White House on Monday afternoon, he was asked whether he was confident the debt ceiling deal would pass Congress, and he replied: "I feel very good about it." Biden said he had spoken with a number of lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

White House officials had briefed House Democrats in a Sunday call, running through the bill and trying to assuage lawmakers' concerns by answering questions about specifics. House Democratic leaders began to poll their members on support for the deal, although most members were still digesting the details, according to several people on the call who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity.

Biden officials are also planning to hold half a dozen briefings over the next two days for congressional Democrats about changes to specific subject matters, particularly on the budget and appropriations process, energy, and the new work requirements for food assistance.

"The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis, a default, for the first time in our nation's history," the president said.


White House officials spoke directly Monday with the New Democrat Coalition, a group of roughly 100 centrist Democrats, whose leadership pledged Sunday to help the administration and leadership shepherd the votes necessary to prevent a default. Notably, the White House has not set up a similar call with the liberal faction, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members have expressed concern that Biden didn't do enough to include their concerns in the negotiations.

New Democrat Coalition chair Ann Kuster, D-N.H., pressed on whether she believed there would be a significant amount of support for the legislation among Democrats, said she expected most of the bipartisan votes will come from ideologically centered groups like hers.

"There will be some bitter pills to swallow. But at the end of the day," she said, "it's very clear that you can be part of the solution or part of the problem. And right now our country needs us to step up and be part of the solution."

On Monday, Ben LaBolt, the White House communications director, told MSNBC that the White House is focusing on persuading Democrats to accept the deal. He said Biden has seen "supportive signs" from members of a coalition of roughly 100 center-left House Democrats -- he didn't name the group -- while other House members were still receiving the bill text overnight. "We're hopeful ... that they will end up supporting the agreement," he said.

Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget and a lead negotiator, told the "Today" show Monday that she was confident members of Congress would support the deal because they "know default would have been devastating to this country -- and on balance, this deal strikes a responsible tone."

The first real test comes this afternoon, when the House Rules Committee will meet to consider the bill. Four Democrats and nine Republicans sit on the panel, including three siding with the far-right wing of the GOP conference. Reps. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., and Chip Roy, R-Tex., have already come out in opposition.

In a positive sign for McCarthy, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a key swing vote on that panel and popular among far-right conservatives, used social media posts to tout aspects of the bill, particularly its inclusion of a measure he sponsored for a mandatory 1 percent cut in government accounts if Congress doesn't pass all of its bills to fund federal agencies.

"That's in this debt limit deal," Massie tweeted late Sunday, posting an image of the bill's text with a red arrow drawn to his provision. He has not formally endorsed the overall legislation, but his posts have generally praised the process and content of the legislation.

In the Senate, at least nine Republican senators will need to join all 51 members of the Democratic caucus to send the bill to Biden's desk. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has come out against the deal. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has threatened to stall the legislation in hopes of holding the line on the nation's rising debt. But McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, issued a statement Sunday night backing the deal, calling on the Senate to "act swiftly and pass this agreement without unnecessary delay."

Economists have begun to weigh in, suggesting the deal to raise the debt ceiling appeared to be good news for the economy, which has been on uneven footing lately.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, tweeted Sunday that while some of the proposed cuts could become an "economic headwind later this year and next," they are not dramatic enough to topple the economy.

"A sigh of relief will be appropriate when the deal becomes law," he wrote, "as it will help the nation avoid a recession."

Information for this article was contributed by Dave Goldiner of the New York Daily News

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