The debt limit deal worked out between House leadership and President Joe Biden has passed and is headed to the Senate. The bill, which both Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) laud as a bipartisan compromise that works for America, cleared the lower chamber easily on a 314-117 vote. But bipartisan doesn’t mean without drama – or, for Speaker McCarthy, the threat of dire consequences. The California Republican barely won the speakership, and he had to make some politically risky promises to secure the role – promises which, according to some, he has now broken.
A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility?
The House passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act 314-117 Wednesday night. As Liberty Nation Economics Editor Andrew Moran explained in his dive into the deal, which many fiscal conservatives will consider quite ironically named, the 99-page package would raise the debt ceiling by $4 trillion over the current maxed-out credit limit of $31.4 trillion. Perhaps more important to those involved than the actual dollar amount, however, is the time it buys. “The agreement suspends the debt limit through January 2025, removing it as a critical issue during the 2024 presidential election,” Moran wrote.
According to the new agreement, non-defense spending stays more or less flat in 2024 at about $637 billion, then can increase by 1% in 2025 – with no caps for 2026 and beyond. Non-defense discretionary spending gets rolled back to 2022 levels, with a limited 1% growth for the next six years. It would also repurpose $20 billion for other non-discretionary spending from the $80 billion largess Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act granted the IRS. However, that’s a far cry from the full repeal McCarthy promised or even the $70 billion cut already passed by the House in April.
Bipartisan? Yes. Unanimous? Not Even Close.
While the new Fiscal Responsibility Act cleared the House by a wide margin, it certainly saw it’s share of drama. Earlier in the day, the floor vote to adopt the rule allowing the bill nearly floundered – and was saved at the last minute by Democrats flipping from “no” to “yes.”
Despite both parties’ leadership endorsing the bill, many Democrats chose not to back the president’s play and opposed the procedural vote. When 29 Republicans also voted against it, the rule seemed doomed to fail. Then Democrats began to support it – with some even changing their already recorded votes. In the end, the rules vote cleared 241-187 with the support of 52 Democrats.
The final vote on the act itself then saw even more dramatic numbers, at least on the GOP side. While it cleared 314-117, that’s largely because of the Democrats, who supported it 165-46. While 149 Republicans voted for the act, a whopping 71 opposed.
With Biden’s role in creating this agreement, his signing, if passed, seems a foregone conclusion. This means the bill’s fate now rests entirely in the Senate.
McCarthy Risks It All – But What Will Be His Reward?
While the Biden and McCarthy both claimed the Wednesday night vote as a victory, it may yet prove to be the speaker’s undoing. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) said McCarthy “should be concerned” about a motion to remove him after the deal. The speaker assured reporters he isn’t at all concerned, but is that confidence wise?
According to the deal he struck to win the speakership, all it takes to force a vote vacate McCarthy as the speaker is a single representative proposing the motion – and it doesn’t have to be a Republican, either. “Yeah, I think he should be concerned,” Rep. Buck said about McCarthy’s future earlier Wednesday. “And so, after this vote – and he will win the vote tonight – but after this vote, we will have a discussion about whether there should be a motion to vacate or not.”
Who will call the vote? Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Tuesday that, should the deal pass the House, an immediate motion to vacate would follow. Now that the deal has passed, will Gaetz make good on his word? If not him, perhaps one of the other 70 Republican representatives who voted against the deal?
Should the motion be called, the vote must happen, per the House rules. McCarthy faces three possible outcomes then. Perhaps the vast majority of Republicans will stick with him, keeping him in office. For McCarthy, that’s the best possible outcome – and perhaps the only one that actually counts as a win. The other two options are that enough of those 71 Republicans who opposed the debt limit bill vote against him along with the Democrats that he’s removed from the role, or that enough of his own side vote against him, but the Democrats pull together in a surprise move to back him. In the one, far more likely instance, he’s out. In the other, he keeps the job – but he’s seen as the Democrats’ speaker. For McCarthy, which one’s worse?
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