McCarthy labors to shore up votes in time to prevent US default


Associated Press

Published: 05-30-2023 8:51 PM

WASHINGTON — Under fire from conservatives, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy worked strenuously Tuesday to sell fellow Republicans on the debt ceiling and budget deal he negotiated with President Joe Biden and win approval in time to avert a potentially disastrous U.S. default.

Leaders of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus lambasted the compromise as falling well short of the spending cuts they demand, and they vowed to try to halt passage by Congress. A much larger conservative faction, the Republican Study Committee, declined to take a position, leaving McCarthy hunting votes.

With tough days ahead, the speaker urged skeptical GOP colleagues to “look at where the victories are.” Unhelpfully for Biden, he said of the Democrats on “Fox and Friends,” “There’s nothing in the bill for them.”

A key test was coming late Tuesday, when the House Rules Committee was to consider the 99-page bill and vote on sending it to the full House for a vote expected Wednesday evening.

The Rules Committee debate was filled with objections from both the left and right. Yet, in a notable development, conservative Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said he would vote in favor of advancing the bill to the House floor, almost ensuring it would clear the first hurdle.

Quick approval by both the House and Senate would ensure government checks will continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others, and prevent financial upheaval worldwide by allowing Treasury to keep paying U.S. debts. The deal would restrict spending over the next two years, but it includes environmental policy changes and expanded work requirements for some older food aid recipients that Democrats strongly oppose.

The Republican speaker said he would be talking with lawmakers in the evening as they return to Washington from the long Memorial Day weekend ahead of crucial votes.

“This is just the first step,” McCarthy said of his agreement with Biden.

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With few lawmakers expected to be fully satisfied, Biden, a Democrat, and McCarthy, a Republican, are counting on pulling majority support from the political center, a rarity in divided Washington, to prevent a federal default. Some 218 votes are needed for passage in the 435-member House.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said it was up to McCarthy to turn out votes from some two-thirds of the Republican majority, a high bar the speaker may not be able to reach. Still, Jeffries said the Democrats would do their part to avoid failure.

“It is my expectation that House Republicans would keep their promise and deliver at least 150 votes as it relates to an agreement that they themselves negotiated,” Jeffries said. “Democrats will make sure that the country does not default.”