Debt ceiling deal between Biden and McCarthy faces its first major test

The bipartisan debt ceiling deal signed off by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the weekend is set to face its first big test as some GOP hard-liners snipe at the bill ahead of the House Rules Committee’s vote Tuesday afternoon.

The committee will consider the 99-page Fiscal Responsibility Act; if approved for consideration on the floor, the full House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday. Two of the nine Republicans on the committee — which is divided 9-4 between Republicans and Democrats — are conservative hard-liners who have aired their criticism of the deal.

Those members could try to kill the bill during the panel’s vote. If three Republicans and all Democrats vote no, it would fail, but even if some Republicans defect, Democrats could rescue it.

If the bill is passed by the House, it then needs to be approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate before the Treasury Department’s June 5 deadline in order to avert a calamitous default.

Some Republican hard-liners voiced their opposition to the bill over the weekend. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., called the deal “insanity” and said the bill has “virtually no cuts.” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, issued a barrage of tweets blasting the deal as a “turd-sandwich.” Norman and Roy are on the Rules Committee. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the deal has “fake spending cuts” and characterized the bill as a sign that “conservatives have been sold out once again.”

Those voices, however, may be a minority among congressional Republicans. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a key vote on the Rules Committee, praised parts of the deal in a series of tweets, touting its inclusion of a measure he sponsored mandating the government to cut 1% of spending across the board if Congress doesn’t pass all 12 appropriations bills.

“That’s in this debt limit deal,” he tweeted Sunday. Although Massie hasn’t formally said he would support the bill’s passage, his recent posts have not been critical of the measure.

McCarthy and his allies have expressed confidence that the bill will pass.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., chair of the center-right Main Street Caucus, told reporters that he predicts the bill will “absolutely pass” after speaking with “dozens of members.”

Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., touted new Congressional Budget Office estimates provided to some in the Republican leadership that have not been made public, two GOP sources said. The estimates say the Biden-McCarthy bill would cut $2.1 trillion in spending — slightly more than what Republicans originally projected.

Bice said the bill will pass with support from both parties: “We’re going to get there. There’s going to be bipartisan support on this legislation. The president is supporting it. I think that we’re in a really good place. Spending cuts are what we asked for; no new taxes are what we asked for; no clean debt ceiling is what we asked for. And that’s exactly what we’ve got.”

Meanwhile, White House senior staff have been working the phones over the weekend to sell the debt ceiling deal to moderate and progressive Democratic lawmakers, including holding briefings in small groups and one-on-one calls to respond to any technical questions from lawmakers and their staff members, a White House official said.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a Congressional Progressive Caucus member, said Sunday that he thinks a “large majority” of House Democrats are “in flux” over whether they will support the deal.

Progressives held a call on Monday to discuss the deal and emerged unsettled about how they will vote. A source on the call said there were “lots of outstanding questions about the details of the agreement and concern about” issues like “fossil fuel permitting, work requirements and spending cuts.”

The bill would extend the debt limit for two years alongside modest federal spending cuts and a series of policy provisions.

It would put spending caps in place for the next two years to set up the appropriations process. It would address conservative policy measures by rescinding about $28 billion in unspent Covid relief funds, eliminate $1.4 billion in IRS funding and shift about $20 billion of the $80 billion provided to the agency through the Inflation Reduction Act to nondefense funds.

The legislation would restart federal student loan payments after a lengthy “pause” that began at the start of the pandemic. It would add work requirements to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits on people up to 55 years old (the current threshold is 50), with carve-outs for veterans and homeless people.

Additionally, it would overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act to streamline permits for projects.

Julie Tsirkin, Frank Thorp V and Allie Raffa contributed.

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