Congress Flees Washington as Debt Talks Stall and Discharge Petition Plan Gains Steam

President Biden and Speaker McCarthy are reportedly close to a deal but still $70 billion apart.

AP/Mary Altaffer
The national debt clock at Manhattan on May 25, 2023. AP/Mary Altaffer

With Thursday being the final day the House is in session before the looming “X-date” for the American government to run out of money, President Biden and Speaker McCarthy have yet to reach a deal. A Democratic discharge petition, meanwhile, is gaining steam.

Lawmakers are not expected to be in Washington again until after Memorial Day, meaning that if the House is called back into session there would be less than two days to pass a measure to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default.

With negotiations coming down to the wire, there are some signals that the White House and Mr. McCarthy are getting closer to a deal

According to reporting by Politico, the deal would include lifting the debt limit through 2024, a plan to pass all 12 appropriations bills needed throughout the year, a plan to claw back unspent Covid money, and some sort of work requirements for welfare programs such as food stamps and housing assistance.

It’s not clear, though, if Mr. McCarthy would be able to whip his members to vote for a deal on the debt. Representative Matt Gaetz, a leader among House Republicans on the party’s right flank, said Tuesday that they shouldn’t give up their “hostage.”

“My conservative colleagues for the most part support, ‘Limit, Save, Grow,’ and they don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage,” Mr. Gaetz told Semafor.

On Thursday, White House aides disclosed to Politico that they estimate that Mr. McCarthy will need between 50 and 100 votes from to pass any deal negotiated with Democrats because the GOP’s right flank is likely to pull its support.

One Freedom Caucus member, Representative Ralph Norman, declined to say what sort of specific policies would be non-starters for him and his colleagues in the Freedom Caucus, but said he didn’t want to settle for anything less than what the House Republican conference passed less month. 

In conversation with Politico, Mr. Norman said that Mr. McCarthy “doesn’t have the 218 on that unless he gets Democrats,” and that if he “gets Democrats, that’s a telltale sign.”

In the bill that House Republicans passed a month ago, the conference proposed loosening restrictions on fossil fuels projects, adding a 20 hour a week work requirement for some food stamp recipients, repealing most tax breaks for renewable energy, and blocking Mr. Biden’s efforts to cancel billions of dollars in outstanding student debt.

The GOP bill also proposed limiting federal spending increases to 1 percent per year, cutting some $70 billion in IRS funding, and clawing back some of the billions of dollars handed out to state and local governments during the Covid pandemic that has not been spent yet. 

At the same time, Democrats have unanimously advanced a discharge petition — a legislative maneuver allowing a majority of representatives to pass a bill without the approval of leadership — meaning that just five Republican votes could send the bill to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts to the Senate.

While it’s not clear whether any Republican members would do it, there are 18 Republicans representing districts Mr. Biden won who have become prime targets for pressure from Democrats.

“It takes a handful of members of the GOP to say, ‘Enough,’” the House Democratic whip, Katherine Clark, told reporters.

In the meantime, the ratings agency Fitch has put America’s “AAA” credit rating on watch for a possible downgrade should the looming default come to pass.

The New York Sun

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