Biden, McCarthy say they have brokered a debt limit deal to avert U.S. default

US Capitol

by Jennifer Shutt, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

May 27, 2023

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced a deal in principle Saturday night that would stave off a first-ever default on the nation’s debt as long as it can clear both chambers of Congress before June 5.

The agreement would address the nation’s debt limit and include a “historic” reduction in spending, McCarthy said, though he declined to give details during brief remarks from the U.S. Capitol building or answer questions. McCarthy also signaled there will be enhanced work requirements for some federal safety net programs, a priority for Republicans.

President Joe Biden in a statement after McCarthy spoke called the agreement “an important step forward that reduces spending while protecting critical programs for working people and growing the economy for everyone. And, the agreement protects my and Congressional Democrats’ key priorities and legislative accomplishments.”

In a hint, though, that some Democrats may find the deal hard to accept, Biden added, “The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. That’s the responsibility of governing.”

The White House did not provide further details, but said legislative text will be finalized over the next day. “I strongly urge both chambers to pass the agreement right away,” Biden said.

The White House had said earlier that Biden spoke with McCarthy on Saturday evening, and before that with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

McCarthy said he expects to have the bill text by Sunday, and schedule a House vote by Wednesday.

“We still have more work to do tonight to finish all the writing of it,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy was expected to speak with members of the House Republican conference on a call later Saturday night.

The California Republican said the legislation “has historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the workforce, rein in government overreach. There are no new taxes, no new government programs. There’s a lot more within the bill.”

McCarthy said he’ll speak with the president again Sunday afternoon.

Spending held flat

The Associated Press reported that the agreement would address the debt limit for two years while holding spending flat for the upcoming fiscal year, which is slated to begin Oct. 1. The agreement would set additional limits on spending during the following fiscal year, 2025.

The Biden administration also reportedly agreed to enhanced work requirements on federal food assistance, according to the AP.

A debt ceiling bill passed by the House expanded work requirements for certain recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who do not have children. The idea has gained traction in a bill recently introduced by Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned lawmakers that without an enacted agreement, the country could begin a default as soon as June 5. 

McCarthy will now need to sell the deal to U.S. House Republicans, many of whom signaled opposition to a bipartisan deal far before one was struck. House GOP leaders will likely need the help of Democrats in that chamber to get the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation.

Democrats who control the U.S. Senate will need the help of Republicans to move the agreement through that chamber, where the legislative filibuster requires at least 60 senators to vote to move legislation toward final passage.

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