One chamber of Congress down, one to go.
After months of back-and-forth negotiations, high-profile meetings and trading barbs in the press, the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a bill brokered between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy to raise the debt limit and impose some spending caps.
The bill must now go to the Senate for approval before Biden signs it into law.
The bill passed in a strongly bipartisan fashion despite dozens of defections from far-right conservatives and progressives alike. The final vote was 314-117, with 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats voting against the measure.
"I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties," President Biden said in a statement released shortly after the final vote was announced. "This agreement meets that test. I urge the Senate to pass it as quickly as possible so that I can sign it into law, and our country can continue building the strongest economy in the world."
McCarthy told reporters Wednesday night after the vote that the negotiations, much like his fight for the House speakership, are not about how you start, but how you finish.
"I have been thinking about this day before my vote for Speaker because I knew the debt ceiling was coming," McCarthy said. "I wanted to make history. I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship and for the first time in quite some time, we'd spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, we all made history."
"Is it everything I wanted?" McCarthy added. "No. But sitting with one house, with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president who didn't want to meet with us, I think we did pretty dang good for the American public."
The measure now heads to the Senate, which is set to take it up imminently with just days to go before Monday’s deadline to lift the debt limit or risk a first-ever U.S. default, which could roil the global economy. To that end, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., quickly took the first procedural steps to begin consideration of the bill shortly after it was passed late Wednesday night.
"Tonight’s passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act is an important step in the right direction," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote on Twitter after the vote. "Now, it’s the Senate’s turn to pass this agreement without delay."
The bill, known as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, suspends the debt limit for two years in exchange for two years of spending caps and other provisions, including clawing back some COVID-19 funds, imposing new work requirements for Americans receiving food aid, and clearing the way for a controversial pipeline in West Virginia backed by Sen. Joe Manchin, but opposed by many of his Democratic colleagues.
“Tonight, we're going to do something we haven't done before. Tonight, we're going to give America hope. Tonight we are going to vote for the largest savings in American history. over $2.1 trillion,” McCarthy said during debate prior to the vote.
Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington, the chair of the House Budget committee, called the bill “a good start” to what he hoped would be a “movement to restore fiscal sanity in our nation's capital.”
Dozens of Republican lawmakers came out in opposition to the bill, arguing that the compromise McCarthy brokered with Biden fell short of the steep spending cuts they initially called for. Likewise, progressive lawmakers revolted over concerns about the new work requirements for the federal food aid benefit known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as concerns that Republicans engaged in “hostage-taking” over the faith and credit of the United States.
“President Biden is to be commended for being the adult in the room and providing the leadership to prevent a catastrophic default that hurts the U.S. standing and the global economy and Americans here at home,” said Connecticut Rep. John Larson, a Democrat, in a fiery floor speech before the vote. “That does not excuse the behavior of the Republican majority in the House who seek to normalize hostage-taking in an effort to hurt programs that serve our people.”
Both Biden and McCarthy worked Wednesday to shore up votes – the president dispatching top White House officials to the Capitol to try and sway lawmakers, while McCarthy huddled with skeptical members of his conference.
"I think things are going as planned, God willing," Biden said at the White House earlier in the day. "I'll be landing in Colorado tonight in preparation for my commencement speech at the Air Force Academy tomorrow, and God willing, by the time I land … the House will have acted and we'll be one step closer."
Democrats and Republicans alike who supported the bill largely acknowledged that the bill is not what either side wants, but is a step in the right direction – for Democrats, a means of staving off default, for Republicans, an effort to curtail spending.
But despite the progressive backlash, more House Democrats (165) than Republicans (149) ended up supporting the bill.
“This bill is not perfect, but we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good when the stakes are this high,” said Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, adding: “The worst outcome here would be default, so let’s get this done.”
"While I find this legislation objectionable, it will avert an unprecedented default, which would bring devastation to America's families," former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said prior to the vote. "Millions of jobs eliminated, trillions in savings erased, higher costs on loans, mortgages, car payments, credit card bills, and more...let us commend President Biden for his responsible leadership to prevent this unconscionable outcome while protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, protecting health care for our veterans as our Commander in Chief."
Quoting the Rolling Stones, New York GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said of the bill, “you can't always get what you want,” urging her fellow Republicans to back the bill: “We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
California Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican who has served in the House since 2009, said Wednesday’s vote would be his first to raise the debt limit during his time in Congress, calling the bill “the most important victory for fiscal conservatives in more than a decade."
“This is the most conservative spending package during my time in Congress, and I'm proud to support it. And I encourage my colleagues to vote yes,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said during debate.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the spending restrictions in the package would reduce deficits by $1.5 trillion over the decade, a top goal for the Republicans trying to curb the debt load.
But in a surprise, the GOP’s drive to impose work requirements on older Americans receiving food stamps “would increase federal spending by about $2.1 billion” over the next decade – because the final deal exempted veterans and homeless people, expanding the food stamp rolls by 78,000 people monthly, the CBO said.
Swift later in the week by the Senate would ensure government checks will continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others and would prevent financial upheaval at home and abroad. Next Monday is when the Treasury has said the U.S. would run short of money to pay its debts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.