How Kevin McCarthy stunned the White House and dealt a blow to Biden
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) passed a debt ceiling bill that raises the limit and cuts spending, a feat top Democrats and officials within the White House reportedly did not think McCarthy could pull off.
The House passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 in late April. The bill would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion or through March 31, 2024, whichever comes first. However, the bill includes a number of conservative economic provisions criticized by the White House and top Democrats in both chambers.
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Aides and lawmakers told NBC News under anonymity that they were astonished that McCarthy passed the debt limit measure last week, and even more were taken aback when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States could default on its debt as early as June 1, the “X date.”
White House officials said they had high hopes that McCarthy’s bill would go nowhere. Instead, officials were “caught off guard” when the speaker whipped the votes needed to pass.
He held several meetings with representatives undecided on their votes, such as Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), to make concessions on the bill and other House measures to receive their “yes” vote. Gaetz and Reps. Tim Burchett (R-TN), Ken Buck (R-CO), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ) were the only four Republicans to vote against the bill, which passed 217-215.
“I don’t think anyone thought McCarthy would get anything passed in the House,” the Democratic lawmaker told NBC News.
Soon after Republicans passed the debt ceiling bill, President Joe Biden invited McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to the White House on May 9.
The White House has denied that its officials had not prepared for McCarthy’s success.
“We were not surprised and planned for either outcome, as demonstrated by the fast action we’ve taken every day since to hold House Republicans accountable for their vote,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
While a rough deadline of June 1 gives the illusion of a month of discussion, Congress and Biden really only have a limited window of six days. From May 9-16, excluding the 13th and 14th, both the House and Senate are in session, and Biden is in Washington, D.C. However, after May 16, Biden leaves for international visits, and the House and Senate go on recesses opposite of each other, with neither being in session at the same time.
It is possible the Senate or House could postpone their recesses. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to tell reporters on Tuesday whether Biden would change his travel plans if a solution is not found.
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With such limited time, Biden and the top congressional leaders from both parties will need to work together. Biden has made it clear he believes raising the debt limit and cutting spending are two separate issues, while Republicans are digging their heels in, demanding that the government cut discretionary spending in several areas.
The White House has zeroed in on several hot-button Limit, Save, Grow Act provisions, claiming that the bill will terminate thousands of Border Patrol agents, cut Medicare and Medicaid, and possibly cut veterans’ healthcare and benefit programs.