Washington - The U.S. House of Representatives is moving toward a Wednesday evening vote on legislation to suspend the government's borrowing limit until early 2025, a Washington political showdown occurring just five days before the country could run out of money to pay its bills.
The measure suspending the government's current $31.4 trillion debt ceiling is likely to be approved. But far-right Republican lawmakers are continuing to assail the deal negotiated by Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for not cutting enough in future government spending, while some progressive Democrats say it trims too much.
The contentious fight over the legislation is also turning into a test of McCarthy's hold on the top leadership post in the House, which he won in January after 15 rounds of voting and after he promised archconservatives a greater say in attempting to rein in government budgets. The U.S. chronically records annual trillion-dollar deficits, adding to the long-term debt total.
Under informal Republican rules managing the House with a narrow majority, McCarthy has pledged to not bring up legislation for a full House vote without the support of at least 111 members of his 222-member Republican caucus. He has said he expects at least 150 Republicans will support the debt ceiling suspension, but the figure is uncertain, with the most vocal Republicans in the far-right Freedom Caucus attacking McCarthy for supposedly caving to Biden in the negotiations.
If McCarthy were to lose 111 Republicans on the debt ceiling vote, at least 107 of the 213 House Democrats would need to support it for the legislation to pass and be sent to the Senate for consideration later in the week, and eventually Biden's signature at the White House.
FILE - President Joe Biden, right, meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to discuss the debt limit, in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, May 22, 2023.
"House Democrats are going to make sure the country doesn't default. Period. Full stop," House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters early Wednesday.
One Freedom Caucus member, Representative Ken Buck, acknowledged to NBC News that the conservative lawmakers do not have enough votes to kill the legislation.
"The nation will not default," Buck said.
But he and other Republicans have voiced skepticism about the legitimacy of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's warning that the government will run out of money next Monday to meet all its financial obligations, including cash to pay interest on government bonds, pensions to older Americans and salaries to the military and government workers.
The House Rules Committee sent the legislation to the full House on a 7-6 vote Tuesday night that showed some of that discontent, with two Republicans voting against advancing the bill.
The proposal before Congress includes waiving the existing borrowing limit until January 2025 and a two-year budget deal that keeps federal spending flat in 2024 and increases it by 1% in 2025. The measure does not raise taxes, nor will it stop the national debt total from continuing to increase, perhaps by another $3 trillion or more over the next year and a half.
Other pieces of the legislation include a reduction in the number of new agents hired by the country's tax collection agency, a requirement that states return $30 billion in unspent coronavirus pandemic assistance to the federal government and extending from 50 to 54 the upper age bracket for those required to work in order to receive food aid.
Some liberal Democratic lawmakers have objected to the deal, saying it cuts too much in social welfare spending or holds some programs at a flat spending level. Republicans say it allows for more spending than legislation they approved weeks ago calling for steeper cuts and a debt ceiling extension of less than a year totaling about $1.5 trillion.
Biden insisted on a new debt ceiling that extended beyond the November 2024 presidential election in which he is seeking a second four-year term, so the current contentious debate would not be repeated during the political campaign next year.
One Republican critic of the debt ceiling legislation, Representative Dan Bishop, complained Tuesday about the length of the debt ceiling extension.
"It removes the issue from the national conversation during the presidential election to come," Bishop said. "How could you more successfully kneecap any Republican [presidential candidate] than to take that issue out of his or her hands?"
Biden and McCarthy have both, respectively, been lobbying Democrats and Republicans to pass the measure.
'The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis - a default - for the first time in our nation's history,' Biden said at the White House last weekend. It 'takes the threat of a catastrophic default off the table.'
'The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. But that's the responsibility of governing,' Biden said in a statement.
McCarthy called the bill the 'most conservative deal we've ever had.'