By Lawrence Wilson
The House of Representatives approved a Republican plan to temporarily raise the debt ceiling while cutting future spending with a vote of 217–215 on April 26.
In a departure from regular order, the vote came less than 24 hours after the bill was formally introduced into the House and just 12 hours after a late-night committee, where the bill was revised by Republicans along party lines.
The move irked Democrats, who complained that there was little opportunity to read the bill and its amendments, let alone debate them.
Republican leaders portrayed the move as a starting point for a discussion on federal spending with Democrats, who hold both the Senate and the White House and can reject the legislation if they choose.
The vote is a win for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who engineered a majority vote among the fractious Republican caucus in the narrowly divided House. Four Republicans voted against the bill. Two Republicans and two Democrats didn’t vote.
Start of Negotiations
McCarthy’s stated aim is to use the bill to force President Joe Biden to negotiate over cuts to federal spending, something the president has refused to consider.
Republican Caucus Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) repeated that goal at a press conference hours ahead of the vote.
“President Biden has been missing in action on the debt ceiling, refusing to negotiate, and putting our economy and the livelihoods of hardworking American families at risk,” Stefanik said. “President Biden must work with us who represent the American people to address our nation’s spending and debt crisis.”
“House Republicans are selling out hardworking Americans in order to defend their top priority: restoring the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest and corporations at a cost of over $3 trillion,” White House Communications Director Ben LaBolt said in an April 26 statement.
The president will veto the Limit, Save, Grow Act if it reaches his desk, according to an April 25 White House statement.
What’s In The Bill
The measure would raise the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion, temporarily relieving anxiety about the prospect of a default on the nation’s financial obligations. The increase would expire on March 31, 2024, requiring another vote in less than 12 months.
The bill would reduce discretionary spending to the 2022 level, limit spending increases to 1 percent annually for 10 years, and reinstate work requirements for some recipients of SNAP and Medicaid. It would also rescind most green energy tax cuts and reduce bureaucratic obstacles to domestic energy production.
Despite the spending cuts and caps, some House Republicans were leaning against voting for the bill on the day before the vote. The speaker spent the evening of April 25 wrangling votes from reluctant caucus members.
Then, during the early morning hours of April 26, Republicans on the House Rules Committee, the only committee to debate the bill, introduced three amendments that appear to be aimed at mollifying holdouts.
One amendment would reinstate work requirements for some recipients of SNAP and Medicaid in 2024, a year sooner than planned.
A second would preserve three biofuel tax credits while other green energy tax credits were rescinded by the bill. At least 10 members from Midwestern states, known for the production of corn used to make ethanol, had reportedly objected to the removal of the credits.
The third would rescind certain funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, including those designated for green building construction, Energy Department loan guarantees, deferred maintenance for national parks, air pollution reduction, and a neighborhood access and equity grant.
Republican leaders, who had insisted that no changes would be made to the bill, attempted to downplay the 11th-hour amendments as “technical changes.”
“In the initial draft, it repealed all of the tax credits, but some of those tax credits were not part of the Inflation Reduction Act,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters just hours before the vote. “So the intention wasn’t to get rid of all of those, just the ones that were created in the IRA.”
Changes to the work requirement provisions were made merely to align the start dates of the requirements across various federal programs, according to Scalise.
“The bill was closed,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said. “There’s nothing of substance that was changed in the bill.”
‘Extortion’ or Starting Point?
Democrats objected to the bill largely because of its perceived effect on government programs. Although the bill enumerates few specific spending cuts, Democrats believe that the overall level of spending reduction can’t be achieved without slashing services for veterans, working people, and the poor.
“This is extortion, not a negotiation,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said of the bill’s hurried passage. “You’re saying if we don’t agree to all these draconian cuts, they’re going to hurt people that we fight for every day on this side of the aisle.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said during the floor debate, “It’s hypocrisy for my Republican colleagues to say that they somehow suddenly care about the debt when they passed a 2017 tax scam that increased the deficit by $2 trillion. And nearly half of those tax cuts went to the top 5 percent.
“But now all of a sudden, they care about debt, and they want to cut nutrition assistance to nearly 3 million women, children, and seniors.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) denied any attempt at coercion, portraying the bill as the first offer in a negotiation.
“We’re saying we just want to talk, here’s our opening proposal,” he said.
“We don’t expect you will take everything or agree with everything. We know you control the United States Senate. We know the president of the United States has a veto, but you’re going to talk with us. We’re going to have a real discussion about what we need to do as a country.”