By Lawrence Wilson
The U.S. House of Representatives inched the country away from financial default by passing a temporary suspension of the nation’s debt ceiling.
Members approved a compromise in the debt ceiling standoff negotiated by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a bipartisan vote of 314 to 117 on May 31. Forty-six Democrats and 71 Republicans voted against the bill.
The Financial Responsibility Act suspends the debt ceiling until Jan. 1, 2025, cuts non-defense discretionary spending slightly in 2024, and limits discretionary spending growth to 1 percent in 2025.
The agreement also contains permitting reforms for oil and gas drilling, changes to work requirements for some social welfare programs, and clawbacks of $20 billion in IRS funding and $30 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds.
In the absence of congressional action to allow additional borrowing, the United States would lack the ready cash to pay all of its bills on June 5, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Biden, in a statement after the vote, applauded the House’s passage and urged the Senate to pass the bill as quickly as possible.
An Imperfect Solution
Leaders on both sides portrayed the agreement as a victory, while many rank-and-file members saw it as an imperfect solution.
“I believe this is an agreement in principle that’s worthy of the American people,” McCarthy told reporters on May 29. “That’s historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the workforce and rein in government overreach.”
He referred to the agreement as the largest single spending reduction in the nation’s history.
“I’m going to support the legislation that is on the floor today, and I have supported it without hesitation, reservation, or trepidation,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters ahead of the May 31 vote. “Not because it’s perfect. But in a divided government, we cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
That theme was repeated by members of both parties throughout the day.
“It is not a perfect bill, but it does represent a compromise between the administration and Congress. That’s necessary in a divided government. Nobody got everything they wanted. But the end result is a truly historic bill,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
Cole, who voted yes for the bill, told The Epoch Times after the passage that the package represented the “best deal we could have cut” and praised McCarthy for striking the compromise agreement, calling the speaker a “master of the art of the possible.”
Across the aisle, Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) described the bill in similar but less sanguine terms.
“The bill does save us from economic catastrophe and rejects the most extreme and rule proposals contained … in the Republicans’ [Limit, Save, Grow] Act,” Fernandez said. “Is it perfect? Absolutely not. I do not support many of the changes to our environmental laws and our social safety net programs.”
Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) simply said, “The bill represents the fact that the Congress is divided.”
Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) who voted against the bill told The Epoch Times that she couldn’t support a bill that takes away “COVID relief dollars for children [and] seniors.”
The congresswoman said that as a result, people in her district in Illinois would now have to choose between paying their mortgage or their student loans, which was “unacceptable” to her.
Wins and Losses
Republicans favored the spending cuts contained in the bill, although many complained that they don’t go far enough.
“At best, we have a two-year spending freeze that’s full of loopholes and gimmicks that would allow for increased funding for the federal bureaucracy,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said.
He said that was given away “in order to achieve a $4 trillion increase in the debt by Jan. 1, 2025.”
Roy and other members of the House Freedom Caucus staged an unsuccessful attempt to block the bill.
Democrats were angered by the increased work requirements placed on some recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“I have a hard time understanding why we are kicking up to 700,000 older adults off of SNAP. It is just cruel,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “Food and hunger should not be a partisan issue. it is a human issue.”
Both sides gained something through the bill as well.
Republicans praised the streamlined process for obtaining drilling permits for oil and natural gas. And McCarthy said the bill doesn’t contain any new taxes for government programs.
“It has historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty and into the workforce, and rein in government overreach,” he said.
Democrats pointed out that the spending reductions were much smaller than those Republicans originally demanded. They also celebrated the fact that changes in SNAP work requirements would add some beneficiaries, leaving the total number of recipients about the same.
The Senate will consider the bill immediately. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said a vote could come as early as June 1. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both endorsed the bill.
Jackson Richman contributed to this report.