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Business News/ Specials / Biden and McCarthy’s Debt-Ceiling Deal Faces Crucial First Test in House

Lawmakers returning to Washington Tuesday will face intense pressure from leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House to support the debt-ceiling bill and overcome opposition on both the left and right.

For now, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy appear on track to gain enough bipartisan support to suspend the debt limit, but the measure could still run into procedural obstacles, complicating the race to avoid an unprecedented default.

The legislation’s first test comes on Tuesday, when it goes before the House Rules Committee, which acts as gatekeeper for legislation coming onto the House floor.

Already, two conservative Republicans on the committee, Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, have said they oppose the deal. The committee is made up of nine Republicans and four Democrats.

The debt-ceiling agreement would suspend the borrowing limit for two years and curb government spending during that time. It would cut spending on domestic priorities favored by Democrats while boosting military spending by about 3%. It also would extend limits on food assistance to some beneficiaries to prod them to find jobs and would speed up environmental reviews for energy projects.

White House officials over the holiday weekend canvassed Democrats on Capitol Hill to brief them about the agreement, while McCarthy promoted the bill to conservatives as a meaningful spending reform.

“I feel very good about it," Biden told reporters on Monday. “There is no reason it shouldn’t get done" in time to avoid default, he added.

In both chambers, opponents of the bill could slow its passage. Some conservatives in the House and Senate have said they would oppose the deal because it doesn’t go far enough to limit federal spending, while some progressives charge that the spending curbs are too steep.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the government could run out of the cash it needs to pay its bills on time on June 5 unless Congress acts. While a failure by the U.S. to pay its bills on time could have wide-ranging consequences, the existence of an agreement would likely blunt the damage from Congress missing the deadline.

During his bid to become speaker in January, McCarthy made a series of procedural concessions to conservatives that are now complicating his ability to pass the agreement. The House won’t take up the bill for a vote until Wednesday, part of an agreement McCarthy made to give lawmakers 72 hours to read the text before voting on a bill.

Roy, ahead of the Rules Committee meeting, said on Twitter that McCarthy had also promised when he was elected speaker to only advance legislation out of the committee if the Republicans were unanimous. A spokesman for McCarthy didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Traditionally in the committee, the minority—in this case, the Democrats—doesn’t provide any supporting votes for the majority to set the terms for considering bills on the floor. If McCarthy were to have to rely on Democratic committee votes, it could badly damage the speaker’s standing.

In the House, McCarthy can lose no more than four Republican votes on the floor before needing Democratic support to pass the legislation. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) has said Republicans had committed to provide at least 150 votes in favor of the deal. Democrats would need to make up the balance to reach the 218-vote threshold typically necessary for passage.

Many progressives are upset with the deal, criticizing the spending curbs for domestic programs, as well as provisions that take funding away from the Internal Revenue Service and change work requirements for food stamps.

The White House agreed to Republican demands to raise the age of people who must work to receive food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In an effort to make the change more palatable to Democrats, the deal would eliminate the work requirements for veterans, homeless people and young people leaving foster care, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Some Democrats broadcast their support for the deal, including the leadership of the New Democrats, a large group of centrist House Democrats. “Compromise depends on give and take and this bill required concessions from both sides," the leaders of the group wrote in a statement on Monday afternoon.

If the proposed bill does clear the House on Wednesday, it will face a compressed timeline in the Senate where passage could take days.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), angry about military funding levels, tweeted Monday that he supported a short-term debt-limit extension—90 days—to renegotiate a deal he called a disaster for defense. He also said he would demand amendment votes in the Senate.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) said he would also seek an amendment removing a provision in the bill to expedite federal permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial 303-mile natural-gas pipeline between West Virginia and Virginia. Kaine has been critical of efforts to bypass the regular permitting process for the pipeline.

A strong bipartisan vote in the House likely would help smooth the way for quicker Senate passage, congressional aides said, which would send the bill to Biden for signing.

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