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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House votes to consider suspending federal debt limit

Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), center, at a news conference about the debt limit bill in Washington, May 30, 2023.

By Catie Edmondson

The House voted Wednesday to take up a bipartisan plan that would suspend the nation’s debt ceiling and limit spending, clearing a major procedural hurdle as lawmakers raced to act before a looming default.

With Republicans in revolt over the measure, it fell to Democrats to help clear the way for the legislation, in a 241-187 vote that reflected a bitter GOP split over the compromise between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden. The vote to begin debate is normally a formality that passes entirely along party lines, and McCarthy’s inability to keep his members united on it was a political setback for him.

It also led to a suspenseful scene on the House floor, as Republican defections stacked up and Democrats waited to begin casting votes in favor of the measure for several minutes, leaving its fate in doubt. In the end, 29 Republicans opposed the measure while 52 Democrats crossed party lines to support it.

To muster a 218-vote majority to push the actual bill through the closely divided House, McCarthy will need to cobble together a coalition of Republicans willing to back it and enough Democrats to make up for what was shaping up to be a substantial number of GOP defections. McCarthy and his lieutenants predicted they would be able to do so and scheduled a final vote for Wednesday night.

“Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” he said. “But on history, I’d want to be here with this bill today.”

The vote came after a contentious debate on the House floor, in which both Democrats and Republicans vented frustration with the compromise and traded accusations of fiscal irresponsibility.

“In that compromise, nobody got what they wanted; we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chair of the Rules Committee, adding later: “We’ll continue to try to work together, but the preeminent problem we had is our friends on the other side think we can spend forever.”

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, countered that House Republicans had advanced a debt ceiling bill that was “extraordinarily devastating” and an “assault” on impoverished Americans.

“Their biggest accomplishment will be ending a crisis that they created,” McGovern said.

Clearing the procedural hurdle allowed the House to move to debating the bill itself, which is expected to begin around 7:15 p.m. The final vote, expected around 8:30 p.m., comes just days before a June 5 deadline, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the United States will run out of cash to pay all of its bills on time.

Republicans have said they will supply most of the votes for the debt limit plan, and Democrats have indicated they would make up the difference to allow the measure to pass, which would require dozens of them to vote “yes.” “House Republicans need to keep their commitment to produce 150 votes,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the minority leader. “And when that happens, Democrats are going to make sure there’s no default.”

The deal would suspend the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit until January 2025. It would cut federal spending by $1.5 trillion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by effectively freezing some funding that had been projected to increase next year and then limiting spending to 1% growth in 2025, which is considered a spending cut because the increase won’t keep pace with inflation. The legislation would also impose stricter work requirements for food stamps, claw back some funding for IRS enforcement and unspent coronavirus relief money, accelerate the permitting of new energy projects and officially end Biden’s student loan repayment freeze.

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