Debt ceiling and spending bill passes U.S. House, clearing major hurdle

Click to play video: 'Debt ceiling bill passes U.S. House, government spending cut'
Debt ceiling bill passes U.S. House, government spending cut
WATCH: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the consequential legislation package on Wednesday. Officials said the package not only cuts government spending, but suspends the debt ceiling, too, clearing a crucial bar with bipartisan support as Congress races to avert a federal default. With the House vote of 314-117, the bill now heads to the Senate with passage expected by week's end – May 31, 2023

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the consequential legislation package that suspends the debt ceiling while cutting government spending, clearing a crucial bar with bipartisan support as Congress races to avert a federal default.

With some Republicans voting against the measure over concerns the hard-fought compromise didn’t go far enough, it took Democrats — some of whom had their own concerns and also voted no — to secure the majority needed to send the bill to the Senate, which is set to hold its own vote later this week.

The goal is to get the bill signed by President Joe Biden before Monday, when the U.S. Treasury says it will run out of money to pay its debts.

Ever since the deal between House Republicans and the White House emerged over the weekend, lawmakers in both parties have urged members to vote for it despite their misgivings, assessing it was better than the alternative of devastating economic upheaval.

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In the end, 117 House members — 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats — voted against the package.

Click to play video: 'U.S. debt ceiling: Democrat, Republican members speak on voting for tentative deal on ‘Face the Nation’'
U.S. debt ceiling: Democrat, Republican members speak on voting for tentative deal on ‘Face the Nation’

Tensions rose earlier Wednesday when Republican support lagged on a procedural vote, but the package ultimately sailed ahead once Democrats — after waiting until it was clear Republicans didn’t have the votes on their own — unleashed their own votes in a show of bipartisan support.

Quick approval by Congress would ensure government checks will continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others, and would prevent financial upheaval at home and abroad. Economists around the world have been watching nervously as negotiators and now lawmakers furiously work to avoid the so-called “X-date” of default.

Both Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have spent the week shoring up support within their parties to back the legislation.

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Speaking on the floor of the House ahead of the vote, McCarthy insisted his party was working to “give America hope” and pointed to the bill’s budget cuts, which he said were needed to curb Washington’s “runaway spending.”

But amid discontent from Republicans who said the spending restrictions did not go far enough, McCarthy said it is only a “first step.”

Biden sent top White House officials to the Capitol to shore up backing. McCarthy worked to sell skeptical fellow Republicans, even fending off challenges to his leadership, in the rush to avert a potentially disastrous U.S. default.

Click to play video: 'Debt ceiling deal reached by GOP, White House: McCarthy'
Debt ceiling deal reached by GOP, White House: McCarthy

In a statement, Biden urged the Senate to pass the bill “as quickly as possible so that I can sign it into law,” and highlighted the importance of Republicans and Democrats working together.

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“I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties,” the president said. “This agreement meets that test.”

Biden departed Washington on Wednesday evening for Colorado, where he is scheduled to deliver the commencement address Thursday at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“God willing by the time I land, Congress will have acted, the House will have acted, and we’ll be one step closer,” he told reporters as he left the White House.

Overall, the 99-page bill restricts spending for the next two years, suspends the debt ceiling into January 2025 and changes some policies, including imposing new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and greenlighting an Appalachian natural gas line that many Democrats oppose. It bolsters funds for defence and veterans.

Raising the nation’s debt limit, now US$31 trillion, ensures Treasury can borrow to pay already incurred U.S. debts.

Click to play video: 'Debt ceiling must be raised by June 5 to avoid default, new warning says'
Debt ceiling must be raised by June 5 to avoid default, new warning says

Republicans on the rightward flank of the party have argued the spending cuts don’t go as far as needed to rein in that federal debt. They have also decried pushing the next debt ceiling fight until after next November’s presidential election, hoping to weaken Biden on the economy as Republicans seek to regain the White House.

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Some of those GOP members openly threatened to move a motion to vacate McCarthy’s speakership over the deal. Under terms agreed to during McCarthy’s days-long battle to be elected Speaker in January, only one member needs to introduce such a motion to trigger a vote that could oust McCarthy from overseeing a slim and divided Republican majority.

It was not clear Wednesday if any real plans were in motion by Republican members to go through with the threat.

Left-leaning Democrats, meanwhile, have criticized the White House for caving to increased work requirements for government aid. And some Democratic lawmakers were leading an effort to remove a surprise provision for the Mountain Valley Pipeline natural gas project. The energy development is important to centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, but many others oppose it as unhelpful in fighting climate change.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the spending restrictions in the package would reduce deficits by US$1.5 trillion over the decade, a top goal for the Republicans trying to curb the debt load.

But the CBO added the food stamp work requirements would end up boosting spending by US$2.1 billion over the same time period. That’s because the final deal exempts veterans and homeless people, expanding the food stamp rolls by 78,000 people monthly, the CBO said.

Click to play video: 'Debt ceiling deal: McCarthy calls bill ‘transformational,’ says Congress to spend less money'
Debt ceiling deal: McCarthy calls bill ‘transformational,’ says Congress to spend less money

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are working for passage by week’s end.

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Schumer warned there is “no room for error.”

Senators, who have remained largely on the sidelines during much of the negotiations between Biden and McCarthy, began inserting themselves more forcefully into the debate.

Some senators are insisting on amendments to reshape the package from both the left and the right. But making any changes to the package seemed unlikely with so little time to spare before Monday’s deadline.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky on Wednesday promised to force a vote on an amendment that would cut federal spending by five years, which could further delay passage.

— with files from the Associated Press

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