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House passes debt ceiling deal and sends it to the Senate

House passes debt ceiling deal
House passes debt ceiling bill, sending it to Senate 02:38

Washington — The House voted late Wednesday to approve legislation to suspend the debt ceiling and limit government spending, sending the measure to the Senate in a strong bipartisan vote that allayed fears of an unprecedented government default.

A majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans voted "yes" on the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 on Wednesday night, for a final tally of 314-117. Among Republicans, 149 voted for the bill and 71 voted against it, while 165 Democrats voted for the legislation and 46 voted against it. President Biden called the bill "good news for the American people and the American economy," and urged the Senate to take up the legislation as soon as possible.

"Tonight, the House took a critical step forward to prevent a first-ever default and protect our country's hard-earned and historic economic recovery," Mr. Biden said in a statement. "This budget agreement is a bipartisan compromise. Neither side got everything it wanted. That's the responsibility of governing. I want to thank Speaker McCarthy and his team for negotiating in good faith, as well as Leader Jeffries for his leadership."

In a press conference after the vote, McCarthy thanked Republican negotiators and the Republican conference for reaching this moment. 

"I've been thinking about this day before my vote for speaker because I knew the debt ceiling was coming," McCarthy told reporters. "I wanted to make history. I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship and for the first time in quite some time, we'd spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, we all made history." 

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the House vote "very good," telling reporters that "we hope we can move the bill quickly here in the Senate, and bring it to the president's desk as soon as possible." 

Earlier Wednesday, a rule to move the bill forward briefly appeared in danger of failing, with nearly 30 Republicans voting against it. More than 50 Democrats ended up supporting the rule, clearing the way for a vote on final passage later in the evening. Ahead of the final vote, Republican and Democratic members urged the bill's passage, while recognizing they didn't get everything they wanted. 

"Mr. Speaker, the Rolling Stones said, you can't always get what you want, you get what you need. And we need to avert a default that would stop checks to seniors, benefits for our veterans, hurt the U.S. dollar and Americans' retirement savings," Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York summarized on the House floor ahead of the vote. 

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that while she finds the legislation "objectionable," it would avert a catastrophic default. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Democrats will "continue to do what is necessary" to "build an economy that works for everyday Americans," but blasted Republican leadership for not being able to keep their party in lock step.

"The question that remains right now is what will the House Republican majority do? It appears that you may have lost control of the floor of the House of Representatives," Jeffries said ahead of the vote. 

Republican Rep. Garret Graves, one of the Republicans who negotiated the deal with the White House, expressed frustration that the nation has accumulated so much debt, but touted the bill's "historic" savings and urged his colleagues to pass the legislation. 

"It is absolutely historic," Graves said on the House floor ahead of the vote. "For the first time ever, as a result of the strategic nature of this speaker, we're in a situation where we have legislation before us that will result in the greatest savings in American history."

Conservative House Republicans objected to the deal brokered by McCarthy and Mr. Biden, with some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus threatening to call a vote to oust McCarthy from the speakership over the deal.

The bill would suspend the debt limit until the first quarter of 2025, after the 2024 elections. Under the agreement, domestic, non-defense spending would be kept roughly flat for 2024, and in 2025, the bill allows a limited increase of 1%. 

The measure also overhauls the nation's permitting laws and specifically approves the remaining permits on a West Virginia natural gas pipeline championed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The bill rescinds unspent COVID-19 funds and adds work requirements for people on food assistance until their early 50s, while eliminating work requirements for veterans and young adults leaving the foster care system. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has estimated the U.S. would run out of funds by June 5 without action on the debt limit.

White House officials and House Republican negotiators worked at the Capitol and White House in a series of lengthy sessions to hammer out the details of a deal since Mr. Biden reengaged on the issue, after insisting for months that he would not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling.

Earlier Wednesday, Schumer said on the floor that senators should be prepared to move on the bill quickly. 

"I cannot stress enough that we have no margin — no margin — for error," he said. "Either we proceed quickly and send this bipartisan agreement to the president's desk or the federal government will default for the first time ever." He instructed them in a letter earlier this week to "prepare for potential Friday and weekend votes."

Caitlin Yilek, Zachary Hudak and Jack Turman contributed to this report.

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