By: Stacy M. Brown / NNPA
In a resounding display of unity, the House of Representatives voted today to pass the debt ceiling legislation following intense negotiations between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden.
The bill now heads to the Senate and comes just in time to prevent a potentially catastrophic default.
With a vote of 314 to 117, the legislation garnered overwhelming support, with 149 Republicans joining forces with 165 Democrats.
If signed into law, the bill will extend the debt limit for two years alongside a comprehensive two-year budget agreement.
This breakthrough marks the end of months of political battles and weeks of heated negotiations, effectively breaking a longstanding stalemate.
The McCarthy-Biden deal faced opposition from both sides of the aisle.
GOP hardliners criticized the bill for its perceived weak spending cuts and conservative provisions.
At the same time, Democrats expressed concerns about the added work requirements and non-defense spending cuts negotiated by McCarthy and Biden.
Despite the criticisms, Speaker McCarthy defended the bill, emphasizing the wins it delivers for the American people.
He assured his fellow Republicans that the legislation does not entail increased spending, new government programs, or tax hikes.
McCarthy’s message to his party was clear: nothing in this bill should be cause for negativity.
It will require 60 votes to advance in the Senate before reaching President Biden’s desk.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have both voiced their support for the bill and called for its swift passage.
The White House has urged the passage of the legislation, particularly as the United States approaches the Monday deadline.
Failure to act would risk an economically catastrophic default on the nation’s debt.
The bill includes modest spending cuts and suspends the borrowing limit until January 1, 2025.
In the meantime, the Treasury can employ extraordinary measures to ensure that bills are paid.
House Republican leaders had anticipated some dissenting votes, primarily from hard-right members who deemed the deal insufficiently aggressive in delivering spending cuts.
Consequently, support from Democrats was crucial to securing the bill’s passage.
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reassured the public that House Democrats would ensure the country did not default.
He emphasized their commitment to responsible economic stewardship and their determination to shield middle-class Americans, working families, seniors, veterans, the poor, the sick, and the afflicted from the potential fallout of a dangerous GOP-induced default.
The legislation also includes spending caps for the next two years.
Notably, it incorporates conservative measures, such as reclaiming approximately $28 billion in unspent COVID relief funds, reducing IRS funding by $1.4 billion, and reallocating $20 billion of the IRS’s $80 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act to non-defense funding.
Additionally, the bill will reinstate federal student loan payments after a prolonged pause since the onset of the pandemic.
It also introduces work requirements for individuals up to 55 years old to qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), expanding the threshold from 50 years old.
However, exceptions for veterans and homeless individuals are included in the bill.
Notably, the Biden-McCarthy deal leaves Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid untouched. An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reveals that if the bill’s spending caps and targets are adhered to, federal discretionary spending will decrease by $1.3 trillion over the next decade.
Only the initial two years’ spending levels are binding.
According to the CBO, the SNAP reforms would increase net spending by $2.1 billion.
While the new work rules should save $6.5 billion, including homeless people and veterans would expand SNAP benefit rolls by 78,000 individuals, incurring an additional cost of $8.6 billion.
“This budget agreement is a bipartisan compromise. Neither side got everything it wanted. That’s the responsibility of governing,” President Biden said in a statement. “This agreement is good news for the American people and the American economy. It protects key priorities and accomplishments from the past two years, including historic investments that are creating good jobs across the country.”
Biden said the measure honors his commitment to safeguard Americans’ health care and protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
“It protects critical programs that millions of hardworking families, students, and veterans count on,” Biden asserted.
McCarthy and extreme MAGA Republicans “made it perfectly clear that they were willing to abdicate their constitutional duty and default on our national debt, which would’ve cost millions of Americans their jobs, retirement savings, and health care coverage,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Steven Horsford said.
“Instead of working to do the right thing for the country and raise the debt ceiling, the Republicans took the debt negotiations and, by extension, the American people hostage to fulfill their right-wing wish list of slashing social safety net programs to the detriment of millions of Americans.
“This type of brinkmanship nearly led our country to a financial catastrophe and crashed the economy, leading to the lowest Black unemployment rate in our nation’s history.”
The CBC applauded President Biden and White House negotiators for “steering the negotiations towards avoiding a catastrophic default, protecting our economy, and expanding SNAP benefits to the most vulnerable Americans, including foster youth, veterans, and homeless Americans.”
Navin Nayak, counselor at the Center for American Progress, said the House did the right thing in passing the legislation.
“There is no question that the bill they’re voting on is imperfect,” Nayak continued.
He said the Mountain Valley Pipeline, included in the bill at the insistence of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, would set a dangerous legal precedent for similar projects and risk the safety of thousands.
Nayak added that the new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would cause hunger for many Americans, and cuts to IRS funding will make it easier for wealthy people and corporations to avoid paying taxes.
“But not passing this bill would tank the economy, likely costing millions of Americans their jobs, shuttering businesses, and endangering middle-class Americans’ retirements,” he said while urging the Senate to pass the measure.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) said it appreciates that the agreement protects Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, the bedrock of retirement and health security for tens of millions of Americans.
However, organization officials said the agreement fails to include revenue to reduce the deficit by requiring wealthy Americans and large corporations to pay their fair share.
“We live in the same society, and we all need to contribute to it,” said NCOA President and CEO Ramsey Alwin.
“We are concerned about new work requirements for adults ages 50–54 to receive food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Older adults already face ageism when seeking employment,” Alwin stated.
“Now, hundreds of thousands of older, low-income SNAP recipients could also lose access to food assistance. This is especially problematic for people with multiple chronic conditions, as it takes away a valuable source of food, which could jeopardize their health and well-being.”
He concluded, “We are also concerned about proposed funding cuts that could reduce access to important community services under the Older Americans Act.
“Aging network providers face an ever-increasing demand for their services in the community. Unfortunately, decreased funding means more chronically ill, low-income older adults will lose access to vital programs like home-delivered and congregate meals.”