The US Congress is rushing to approve a bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut government spending by Monday, the earliest date the US risks a first-ever sovereign default. The significance of these pockets of Democratic support became increasingly clear Wednesday, as both parties recognized that Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy would need Democratic votes just to get the debt limit bill to the House floor for a final vote, let alone to actually pass it.
Republicans and Democrats divided
The vote was on a package of rules written by Republicans, which governed how the final vote on the Fiscal Responsibility Act took place. But as the vote stretched on well past its time limit, more than 20 Republicans, mostly conservative hardliners, bucked their leadership and voted against the rules package, a highly unusual move by members of the majority party. Democrats were also divided, with the lion’s share of the caucus voting against the rules package.
Impact of the bill on federal debt and deficits
Further complicating the support and opposition to the bill Wednesday was a surprise finding from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which released its assessment late Tuesday of the bill’s impact on federal debt and deficits. The CBO determined that, contrary to Republicans’ stated intent, the bill’s new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would not save any money over 10 years, but would instead actually cost money.
Republican leaders push back on CBO findings
Republican party leaders pushed back, and claimed on a hastily arranged conference call that the CBO was incorrectly counting people who were already exempt from work requirements. But Republican opponents of the bill quickly seized on the CBO finding to argue that the bill betrayed its own conservative principles.
The legislation is the result of a deal reached between McCarthy and President Joe Biden, which essentially hands conservatives several ideological policy victories in exchange for their votes to raise the debt ceiling beyond next year’s presidential election and into 2025. Most importantly, the bill would avert a potentially catastrophic US debt default that the Treasury Department said will likely occur next week if Congress does not act to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. As Biden departed Wednesday for Colorado, he appeared to accept that the fate of the bill was out of his hands.