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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

With debt limit deal in hand, McCarthy and Biden turn to task of selling it

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, as pitched negotiations over the debt limit continued, on Saturday, May 27, 2023.

By Luke Broadwater and Chris Cameron

A day after striking a deal in principle with President Joe Biden to raise the debt limit, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team began an all-out sales pitch on Sunday to rally Republicans behind a compromise that was drawing intense resistance from the hard right.

To get the legislation through a fractious and closely divided Congress, McCarthy and top Democratic leaders must cobble together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate willing to back it. Members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus have already declared war on the plan, which they say fails to impose meaningful spending cuts, and warned that they would seek to block it.

So after spending late nights and early mornings in recent days in feverish negotiations to strike the deal, proponents have turned their energies to ensuring it can pass in time to avert a default now projected on June 5.

“This is the most conservative spending package in my service in Congress, and this is my 10th term,” Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., a lead member of McCarthy’s negotiating team, said at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Sunday morning.

House Republicans circulated a one-page memo with 10 talking points about the conservative benefits of the deal, which was still being finalized and written into legislative text on Sunday, hours before it was expected to be released. The GOP memo asserted that the plan would cap government spending at 1% annually for six years — although the measure is only binding for two years — and noted that it would impose stricter work requirements for Americans receiving government benefits, cut $400 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for global health funding and eliminate funding for hiring new IRS agents in 2023.

“It doesn’t get everything everybody wanted,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill. “But, in divided government, that’s where we end up. I think it’s a very positive bill.”

Biden told reporters that he was confident the deal would reach his desk and that he would speak with McCarthy on Sunday afternoon “to make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.”

“I think we’re in good shape,” the president said. Asked what sticking points were left, he said, “None.”

Still, the deal, which would raise the debt ceiling for two years while cutting and capping some federal programs over the same period, was facing harsh criticism from the wings of both political parties.

“Terrible policy, absolutely terrible policy,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” referring to the work requirements for food stamps and other public benefit programs. “I told the president that directly when he called me last week on Wednesday that this is saying to poor people and people who are in need that we don’t trust them.”

Jayapal, the chairperson of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she wanted to read the bill before she decided whether to support it.

Some on the right had already ruled out doing so before seeing the details.

“No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a member of the House Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitter. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., posted his reaction to news of the deal: a vomit emoji.

But McCarthy argued that Republican critics were a small faction.

“More than 95% of all those in the conference were very excited,” McCarthy, who briefed Republicans about the deal on Saturday night, said on Fox. “Think about this: We finally were able to cut spending. We’re the first Congress to vote for cutting spending year over year.”

The deal would essentially freeze federal spending that had been on track to grow, excluding military and veterans programs.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., an ally of McCarthy’s, said that House Republicans would overwhelmingly support the debt deal. He played down the right-wing revolt, claiming that leaders never expected certain House Freedom Caucus members to vote for it.

“When you’re saying that conservatives have concerns, it is really the most colorful conservatives,” Johnson said on “State of the Union,” pointing out that some Republicans even voted against a more conservative proposal to raise the debt ceiling. “Some of those guys you mentioned didn’t vote for the thing when it was kind of a Republican wish list.”

Still, it was clear McCarthy would need votes from Democrats to pass the measure through the House — and those might not prove easy to deliver, especially from the left wing in the House.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said he was undecided about how to vote but expressed anger at the negotiations, which he compared to hostage-taking on the part of Republicans.

“None of the things in the bill are Democratic priorities,” Himes said on Fox. Himes said the legislation was not “going to make any Democrats happy.”

“But it’s a small enough bill that in the service of actually not destroying the economy this week may get Democratic votes,” he said.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the House minority leader, said McCarthy and Biden would speak again Sunday afternoon before the Biden administration briefed the House Democratic Caucus.

“I do expect that there will be Democratic support once we have the ability to actually be fully briefed by the White House,” Jeffries said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

But he was clear that he did not like the position Democrats were in.

“We have to, of course, avoid a market crash. We have to avoid tanking the economy. We have to avoid a default,” Jeffries said. “The reason why we’re in this situation from the very beginning is that extreme MAGA Republicans made the determination that they were going to use the possibility of default to hold the economy and everyday Americans hostage.”

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