U.S. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an agreement Sunday for a deal to increase the government’s borrowing limit and are urging Congress to approve the legislation to avoid a first-ever default.
However, progressive Democratic lawmakers from the party’s ideological left and right-wing Republicans immediately voiced opposition Sunday to the deal agreed to by the two leaders.
Speaking from the White House Sunday evening, Biden said the deal was “good news” and urged congressional lawmakers to pass the bill.
“The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis, a default, for the first time in our nation’s history,” he said. It “takes the threat of a catastrophic default off the table.”
McCarthy, discussing the agreement at the Capitol, said, "At the end of the day, people can look together to be able to pass this.”
Answering a reporter’s question, the president replied that House Speaker McCarthy negotiated in good faith, but there is still the question whether the Republican leader has enough support in his own party for the agreement’s passage.
“And I have no idea whether he has the votes, but I suspect he does," Biden said.
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“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. That’s the responsibility of governing,” Biden said in a statement. He called the pact “an important step forward that reduces spending while protecting critical programs for working people and growing the economy for everyone.”
He said, “The agreement protects my and congressional Democrats’ key priorities and legislative accomplishments. And this agreement is good news for the American people, because it prevents what could have been a catastrophic default and would have led to an economic recession, retirement accounts devastated, and millions of jobs lost.”
Earlier Sunday, McCarthy, on the “Fox News Sunday” show, said that from Republicans’ perspective, “There’s so much in this that is positive. It will not do everything for everyone, but this is a step in the right direction.”
“I think you are going to get a majority of Republicans voting for this bill,” McCarthy said. While acknowledging some conservative pushback, “We were able to do this when the president said he wasn’t even going to talk to us.
Not all details of the “agreement in principle” that Biden and McCarthy reached late Saturday were publicly known early Sunday. White House officials and McCarthy’s negotiators from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives were fine-tuning the text of the legislation Congress will need to pass to suspend the country’s existing $31.4 trillion debt ceiling to an unspecified figure nearly two years from now in the first quarter of 2025, months after the November 2024 presidential election.
The debt ceiling needs to be increased so the government can borrow more money, or the U.S. government will run out of cash to pay its existing bills June 5, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress.
Yellen has said that without an increase in the debt ceiling or a suspension of the borrowing limit, interest on U.S. bonds held by foreign governments and individual American investors would be imperiled, as well as stipends to U.S. pensioners and salaries to government workers and contractors. Without enough tax receipts coming into U.S. coffers to pay its bills, the government would be forced to prioritize which payments to make.
Under the deal, non-defense spending will remain relatively flat in the government’s 2024 financial year starting October 1, while increasing a meager 1% in 2025. After 2025, there would be appropriation spending targets, but they would not be enforceable.
The agreement calls for expansion of work requirements for some Americans receiving food stamps to buy food, increasing the age requirement from 49 to 54 to which the work rules apply. It would also speed up the approval process for new energy projects.
The pact left in place Biden’s plan to write off up to $20,000 in student loan debts but says that loan recipients will have to start making loan payments that had been paused during the coronavirus pandemic. The provision would become moot if the Supreme Court overturns Biden’s authority to revoke the debt in a challenge to his action that it is expected to rule on by the end of June.
McCarthy said, “There is not one thing in this bill for Democrats. We’re going to spend less and encourage people to go back to work.”
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the leader of the House Democrats, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show that the agreement “protects the American people from the devastating effects of the cuts proposed by Republicans.” He said the pact keeps intact pensions and health care insurance for older Americans as well as government assistance for impoverished people.
“I do expect we will have Democratic support” for approving the debt ceiling increase, Jeffries said.
There was, however, grumbling from progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the 102-member House progressive caucus, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that Biden and Jeffries should worry about progressives’ support for passage of the debt ceiling increase.
Jayapal criticized expanding work requirements for food stamp recipients and said she did not know whether she would vote for the debt ceiling increase.
“I’m not a big fan of in-principle (agreements) frameworks,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “That’s always, you know, a problem if you can’t see the exact legislative text. And we’re all trying to wade through spin right now. But I think it’s going to come down to what the legislative text is.”
Among Republicans, Representative Bob Good wrote on Twitter, “No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote” on the package.
Another Republican critic of the deal, Representative Ralph Norman, tweeted, “This ‘deal’ is insanity.” He said a possible $4 trillion increase in the debt over the next two years “with virtually no cuts is not what we agreed to. Not gonna vote to bankrupt our country. The American people deserve better.”