• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Updated May 30, 2023, 7:36am EDT
politics

The final drama ahead for the debt ceiling bill

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
TweetEmailWhatsapp

Sign up for Semafor Principals: What the White House is reading. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

The hard part is over, at least in theory: The White House and Speaker Kevin McCarthy have a deal to raise the debt ceiling while effectively freezing key chunks of federal spending.

Now they have to pass the thing. And while there’s little sign the bill is in much trouble, there are obstacles — particularly on the Republican side — that could create some late drama. In a worst case scenario, the fallout could threaten McCarthy’s speakership.

In its first test, the House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet later Tuesday to consider the 99-page bill and potentially send it to the chamber’s floor. But some conservative Republicans on the panel, who were appointed by McCarthy as part of the deal that handed him the speaker’s gavel, are vehemently opposed to the agreement and in theory could cause trouble for it.

AD
Title icon

Our View

This bill will pass, but there will probably be a few more twists before getting there. Here’s where all the key players stand as we go into the final stretch.

Title icon

The View From House Republicans

At the moment, the most intense drama is swirling around the House GOP.

At least 10 conservatives are expected to oppose the debt limit bill, meaning McCarthy will have to rely on Democratic support to get the legislation over the finish line. The roster includes hardliners such as Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Bob Good of Virginia, and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

AD

“It’s not a good deal,” Roy tweeted. “Some $4 Trillion in debt for — at best — a two year spending freeze and no serious substantive policy reforms.”

Both Roy and Norman sit on the Rules panel, along with Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky — a libertarian who has frequently bucked leadership in the past and who has been mum on how he’ll cast his vote on the committee.

On Monday, Roy seemed to suggest that the group of three could stop the bill if they voted against it and McCarthy stuck to the agreement that made him speaker, which has never been publicly revealed.

AD

“A reminder that during Speaker negotiations to build the coalition, that it was explicit both that nothing would pass Rules Committee without AT LEAST 7 GOP votes — AND that the Committee would not allow reporting out rules without unanimous Republican votes,” he tweeted. (There are nine Republicans total on the committee, so three voting against it would drop the GOP total to 6).

Rep. Dusty Johnson, a moderate Republican from South Dakota, dismissed Roy’s claim of a handshake deal, telling NBC News that “When I checked, there wasn’t a rule that something has to come out of Rules Committee unanimously.”

Assuming the bill makes it out of the rules committee, the next question from there is whether any of the conservatives upset with a deal would consider calling for a vote on McCarthy’s speakership, another feature of the deal that elevated him to his current position. So far, no one has outright made a threat along these lines and some Democrats are prepared to back McCarthy if needed, according to Bloomberg.

Title icon

The View From The White House

President Biden has been careful not to crow too much about the deal, which some Democrats have celebrated as a pleasant surprise, in order to give McCarthy more room to wrangle his own members.

“You think that’s going to help get it passed? No,” Biden told reporters on Monday, responding to criticism from some in the party that he hasn’t been more out front selling the agreement.

As for their own side, White House aides spent most of Monday calling Democrats in both chambers to brief them on the legislation in small groups and one-to-one, according to a White House official. They also stepped up their outreach to Senate Democrats compared to over the weekend. The official said the White House is reaching out to members “across the ideological spectrum.”

The White House is hosting issue-specific briefings for lawmakers through Tuesday that cover energy policy, budget and appropriations levels, and changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — all areas where Democrats have had complaints.

Title icon

The View From House Democrats

Democratic leadership is taking the temperature of members, and asked them to relay their vote plans by Monday evening, per a whip questionnaire viewed by Semafor.

The party’s left flank has not had the same explosive reaction as the GOP’s right (there isn’t a single official “no” yet that we’ve seen), but it’s possible that compromises over spending levels, work requirements, restarting student loan payments, and measures that boost fossil fuels could engender opposition. Many members called on Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment to avoid default ahead of the deal rather than negotiate significant concessions.

An aide to one progressive said that members upset with the deal were “genuinely unsure” whether to vote no, especially given the extreme (if unlikely) risk that both leaders’ whip counts could go wrong and lead to a failed deal and default. “Is it worth voting no, given the consequences?” the aide asked.

The agreement is likely to attract the support of moderates in the caucus. The 99-member New Democrat Coalition threw its support behind the deal on Monday, endorsing a yes vote so the bill reaches “Biden’s desk without unnecessary delay.”

Democrats who as recently as last week were talking about using a discharge petition to force a vote on the clean debt ceiling say they’ve tabled it — for now.

“I fully expect this agreement to pass. But if it didn’t, then I would immediately push to get the 5 GOP signatures and vote the clean limit increase immediately,” Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, who introduced the discharge petition earlier this month, told Semafor.

Title icon

The View From The Senate

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned senators to be on standby for the possibility of weekend votes. He thanked Biden for “taking the threat of default off the table” and said he would review the text carefully.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the deal, spoke to Biden as well. Even with a 60-vote threshold, a negotiated bill with both leaders’ support should be a slam dunk.

Some Senate Republicans nonetheless came out swinging against the deal. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called it a “catastrophe for defense” on Twitter. He said he’d seek amendment votes to adjust the agreement to boost military spending.

Meanwhile, the bill’s inclusion of a measure approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline — long a priority of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — has ruffled some feathers. A spokesperson for Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said he would file an amendment to remove it because it is “completely unrelated to the debt ceiling matter.” It’s unclear whether Kaine will oppose the legislation if that particular provision is not scrapped.

Title icon

Notable

Semafor Logo
AD