The House voted to pass the debt ceiling bill in McCarthy’s victory


The House voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling, days after Republican lawmakers rallied behind a package that would improve House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s position at the negotiating table with the White House.

The final vote was 217-215, with four Republicans — Ken Buck of Colorado, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Matt Gates of Florida — voting against the bill. McCarthy managed to win the vote by only four votes.

The measure died on its way to the Democratic-led Senate, but is primarily aimed at bolstering Republican efforts to negotiate with Democrats as the country nears its default deadline this summer.

Throughout the day, House Republicans rallied around their proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and cut federal spending, after leadership made last-minute changes designed to win over key GOP holdouts — a major shift in the text after leadership insisted they would not change the bill.

Following a closed-door conference call Wednesday morning, McCarthy took some of the 11th-hour changes to members, and many conservatives and members representing ethanol-producing states who initially resisted began to fall in line.

In a hopeful sign, GOP leaders along with Rep. Nancy Mays of South Carolina did not vote to support the legislation.

“I feel heard by the Speaker, and … I will support the debt ceiling vote today because he heard my concerns,” Mays told reporters after meeting with McCarthy.

GOP leaders, however, faced two stubborn opposition packages heading to a vote on Wednesday, despite an intense whipping effort and weeks of negotiations over the proposals. After the House Rules Committee adjourned before midnight Tuesday, leaders tried behind the scenes to find a way to get two different groups to support their legislation. When the rules committee returned early Wednesday morning, there were a series of changes they hoped would get them the votes they needed.

Among those changes: Republicans agreed to implement proposed work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries on an accelerated schedule — a move Florida’s GOP Rep. It was intended to win over Matt Gaetz and others who had warned they would vote against the bill without such changes.

And top Republicans agreed to repeal some tax incentives for biofuels like ethanol — a move that drew strong opposition from four Iowa Republicans and some Midwestern lawmakers.

Following the changes, many Republicans came out in support of the bill, including members of the Iowa House of Representatives, who spent 24 hours pleading for a reversal on repealing several biofuel subsidies.

“I think we’re all very happy that the speaker looked at things and was willing to engage in a conversation and acknowledge what was said in retrospect,” Rep. Marionette Miller-Meeks, Iowa Republican, told reporters.

Another member of the Iowa delegation, Rep. Zach Nunn signaled that members — after a thorough review — would support the bill, while Rep. Derrick Van Orten, Republican of Wisconsin, said “yes” after leadership included his proposed biofuels. Correction.

Several conservative members of Congress, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Andrew Clyde of Georgia, showed support for the bill following a conference call Wednesday.

“I plan to vote yes,” Perry told CNN. “I like changes. Some are a step in the right direction. Some are not seen as a step in the right direction, but you have to balance that.

Norman cautioned, however, that he would not support any future versions that do not already pass — a preview of the challenges that will come in hammering out a debt ceiling deal with Democrats.

Behind closed doors, McCarthy tried to downplay the last-minute changes, framing them as “technical changes,” according to a source in the chamber, in an effort to address members’ concerns.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer also supported the leadership’s decision to reverse course and make changes to the plan they initially created.

“The bill is closed. You heard technical changes. No substance has been changed in the bill,” Emmer told a news conference. “So the bill is closed and we will pass it.”

Key McCarthy allies said the bill should pass Wednesday to bolster their case against Democrats’ so far inaction on the issue.

“This is what gets us in the game,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota. “This is the first conversation. We know what the next conversation is next, it’s part of the negotiation. We know we don’t control all three. We don’t control the White House and the Senate, but this is where we start. Gets the right place.

GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson outlined that the strategy to get reserves on board was to sell the vote as an opening salvo to get McCarthy to the negotiating table with President Joe Biden.

“We were able to get some grace in the small areas where most people disagree because they want to put Kevin McCarthy and Joe Biden at the table,” he said.

Biden reiterated Wednesday that he would not meet with McCarthy about extending the debt ceiling, saying it was “non-negotiable.”

“They haven’t figured out the debt ceiling yet,” Biden told reporters in the Rose Garden, referring to House Republicans. “I’m happy to meet with McCarthy, but not on whether or not the debt ceiling is extended. That’s not negotiable.

Rep. North Carolina, a GOP leadership ally. Patrick McHenry predicted, “We’re going to have a pretty good win today,” and added that it’s important to show GOP unity on the issue.

“Any president who refuses to negotiate does so at their own peril and harm to the American economy,” he said. “This president is putting himself in a terrible position. Passing this bill this week will show that House Republicans have a position, we’ve raised the debt ceiling, we’ve made an offer, and we have a menu of options that we’ve put before the president. He needs to come to the table and start big on this situation and negotiate with the legislative branch.

Inside the convention, most Republicans were upbeat about the chances of passage, with McCarthy urging his members to vote on the bill and pass it on Wednesday.

“It’s a very collaborative process,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas, told CNN. “That’s why I’m surprised you’re seeing such broad support.”

Passing the bill, however, is a first step for Republicans, and it’s unclear when Biden will sit down with McCarthy again.

The package raises the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling by an additional $1.5 trillion. But if the new debt limit is not breached by March 31, 2024, Congress must increase borrowing authority again by that date, proposing to restart a major fiscal war in the middle of a presidential election year.

In their “Restrict, Save, Grow Act,” House Republicans are proposing significant cuts to domestic programs and excluding the Pentagon’s budget, returning funding for federal agencies to 2022 levels, while aiming to limit growth in spending to 1% per year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would reduce the government deficit by $4.8 trillion over 10 years.

As part of the 320-page bill, the GOP also proposes to block Biden’s plan to kill new Internal Revenue Service funding enacted as part of the Student Loan Forgiveness, Green Energy Tax Credits Repeal and Inflation Reduction Act. The measure would also impose new programs that would give Congress more power to withhold regulation from the executive branch. While canceling funding enacted to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, the plan would also accelerate new oil drilling projects.

Struggling to unify a diverse conference around the bill is an even bigger test for McCarthy, who has been successful in the role for 100 days.

This story and topic have been updated with additional improvements.

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