WASHINGTON — With days to spare before a potential first-ever government default, President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached final agreement Sunday on a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and worked to ensure enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass the measure in the coming week.
The Democratic president and Republican speaker spoke with each other Sunday evening as negotiators rushed to draft and post the 99-page bill text so lawmakers can review compromises that neither the hard-right or left flank is likely to support. Instead, the leaders are working to gather backing from the political middle as Congress hurries toward votes before a June 5 deadline to avert a damaging federal default.
“Good news,” Biden declared Sunday evening at the White House.
“The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis, a default, for the first time in our nation’s history,” he said. “Takes the threat of a catastrophic default off the table.”
The president urged both parties in Congress to come together for swift passage. “The speaker and I made clear from the start that the only way forward was a bipartisan agreement,” he said.
The compromise announced late Saturday includes spending cuts but risks angering some lawmakers as they take a closer look at the concessions. Biden told reporters at the White House upon his return from Delaware that he was confident the plan will make it to his desk. The bill was posted Sunday evening.
McCarthy, too, was confident in remarks at the Capitol: “At the end of the day, people can look together to be able to pass this.”
The days ahead will determine whether Washington is again able to narrowly avoid a default on U.S. debt, as it has done many times before, or whether the global economy enters a potential crisis.
In the United States, a default could cause financial markets to freeze up and spark an international financial crisis. Analysts say millions of jobs would vanish, borrowing and unemployment rates would jump, and a stock-market plunge could erase trillions of dollars in household wealth. It would all but shatter the $24 trillion market for Treasury debt.
Anxious retirees and others were already making contingency plans for missed checks, with the next Social Security payments due soon as the world watches American leadership at stake.
McCarthy and his negotiators portrayed the deal as delivering for Republicans though it fell well short of the sweeping spending cuts they sought. Top White House officials were briefing Democratic lawmakers and phoning some directly to try to shore up support.
As Sunday dragged on, negotiators labored to write the bill text and lawmakers raised questions.
McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol on Sunday that the agreement “doesn’t get everything everybody wanted,” but that was to be expected in a divided government. Privately, he told lawmakers on a conference call that Democrats “got nothing” they wanted.
A White House statement from the president, issued after Biden and McCarthy spoke by phone Saturday evening and an agreement in principle followed, said the deal “prevents what could have been a catastrophic default.”
Support from both parties will be needed to win congressional approval before a projected June 5 government default on U.S. debts. Lawmakers are not expected to return to work from the Memorial Day weekend before Tuesday, at the earliest, and McCarthy has promised lawmakers he will abide by the rule to post any bill for 72 hours before voting.
Negotiators agreed to some Republican demands for increased work requirements for recipients of food stamps that House Democrats had called a nonstarter.
With the outlines of an agreement in place, the legislative package could be drafted and shared with lawmakers in time for House votes as soon as Wednesday, and later in the coming week in the Senate.
Central to the compromise is a two-year budget deal that would essentially hold spending flat for 2024, while boosting it for defense and veterans, and capping increases at 1% for 2025. That’s alongside raising the debt limit for two years, pushing the volatile political issue past the next presidential election.
Driving hard to impose tougher work requirements on government aid recipients, Republicans achieved some of what they wanted. It ensures people ages 49 to 54 with food stamp aid would have to meet work requirements if they are able-bodied and without dependents. Biden was able to secure waivers for veterans and homeless people.
The deal puts in place changes in the landmark National Environmental Policy Act designating “a single lead agency” to develop environmental reviews, in hopes of streamlining the process.
It halts some funds to hire new Internal Revenue Service agents as Republicans demanded, and rescinds some $30 billion for coronavirus relief, keeping $5 billion for developing the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines.
The deal came together after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress that the United States could default on its debt obligations by June 5 — four days later than previously estimated — if lawmakers did not act in time. Lifting the nation’s debt limit, now at $31 trillion, allows more borrowing to pay bills already insurred.
McCarthy commands only a slim Republican majority in the House, where hard-right conservatives may resist any deal as insufficient as they try to slash spending. By compromising with Democrats, he risks losing support from his own members, setting up a career-challenging moment for the new speaker.
“I think you’re going to get a majority of Republicans voting for this bill,” McCarthy said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that because Biden backed it, “I think there’s going to be a lot of Democrats that will vote for it, too.”
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he expected there will be Democratic support but he declined to provide a number. Asked whether he could guarantee there would not be a default, he said, “Yes.”
A 100-strong group of moderates in the New Democratic Coalition gave a crucial nod of support on Sunday, saying in a statement it was confident that Biden and his team “delivered a viable, bipartisan solution to end this crisis” and were working to ensure the agreement would receive support from both parties.
The coalition could provide enough support for McCarthy to make up for members in the right flank of his party who have expressed opposition before the bill’s wording was even released.
It also takes pressure off Biden, facing criticism from progressives for giving into what they call hostage-taking by Republicans.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CBS that the White House and Jeffries should worry about whether caucus members will support the agreement.