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Bipartisan deal reached to raise debt limit, cap appropriations

Debt limit would be suspended until Jan. 1, 2025; discretionary spending caps would be imposed for six years

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had been in talks for days with President Joe Biden regarding the debt limit.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had been in talks for days with President Joe Biden regarding the debt limit. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House GOP leaders reached a tentative deal with President Joe Biden Saturday night to lift the debt ceiling, in a long-awaited breakthrough that could avoid an economic crisis if Congress passes it next week.

Details haven’t been made public yet but were starting to trickle out. As described by sources familiar with the accord, the nation’s borrowing cap would be suspended until Jan. 1, 2025, avoiding another market-rattling fight during an election year.

“We have come to an agreement in principle,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced in a brief news conference at the Capitol shortly after 9 p.m. “We still have a lot of work to do. But I believe this is an agreement in principle that’s worthy of the American people.”

McCarthy said he planned to speak again with Biden on Sunday afternoon and release the bill text sometime Sunday at the earliest. The House would then vote on the bill Wednesday or Thursday, giving members 72 hours to review it before voting, as he had promised.

Biden spoke earlier on Saturday with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the White House said.

The agreement, if it holds, could head off the risk of a debt limit breach that economists have warned would set off a financial crisis. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told lawmakers the government would be unable to pay all its bills beginning on June 5 unless the nation’s $31.4 trillion statutory debt ceiling is lifted before then.

“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. That’s the responsibility of governing,” Biden said in a statement late Saturday. “And, this agreement is good news for the American people, because it prevents what could have been a catastrophic default and would have led to an economic recession, retirement accounts devastated, and millions of jobs lost.”

Discretionary caps, work requirements

Discretionary spending caps would be imposed for six years as part of the agreement, though only enforced by across-the-board cuts during the first two years. Funding would be allowed to grow 1 percent annually.

In fiscal 2024, defense funding would see a roughly 3 percent increase above the current year, to $886 billion, matching the president’s request. Veterans health care would be funded at $138 billion, a 16 percent increase after mandatory funds are included on top of the discretionary caps, also in line with Biden’s request, according to a White House fact sheet.

All other nondefense discretionary programs would be held roughly flat on average from this year once “adjustments” are factored in, according to the White House, at $637 billion. As Republicans described it, however, nondefense, non-veterans health appropriations would be rolled back below fiscal 2022 levels, to $583 billion — presumably not accounting for the unspecified adjustments.

And if lawmakers don’t complete all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year, the agreement would automatically put in place a stopgap funding measure with a 1 percent haircut to current spending.

One of the last issues to get worked out was work requirements for federal safety-net programs.

Medicaid changes sought by Republicans were dropped. But the two sides compromised on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program changes that would raise the age above which existing work requirements are waived from 49 to 54 — Republicans wanted 55 — for work-capable adults without dependents. The changes would be temporary, expiring in 2030, and veterans and homeless beneficiaries would be exempt from the rules.

The emerging deal would also cut the number of annual exemptions from work requirements states can grant, from 12 percent of SNAP beneficiaries to 8 percent, McCarthy said.

And the tentative agreement preserves some tightening of existing work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, but with protections for low-income children.

McCarthy said the bill has “historic reductions in spending” and “consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the workforce.”

House Republicans held a conference call on the emerging package on Saturday night.

A source familiar with the call said that a majority of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus was expected to oppose the measure. But overall, the source said most Republicans seemed amenable to the package.

Rescissions, student loans, permitting

The deal would claw back “tens of billions” in unspent pandemic aid, Republicans said, citing as an example $400 million appropriated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Global Health Fund. And nearly $2 billion approved for the IRS this year to crack down on tax dodging, which was part of nearly $80 billion appropriated in last year’s budget reconciliation package, would be rescinded.

In total, McCarthy told Republicans on Saturday night’s call that $29 billion in previously appropriated but unspent funds would be canceled.

McCarthy said the measure includes “no new taxes, no new government programs” and would “rein in government overreach.” Republicans pointed to inclusion of a provision known as “administrative paygo,” which appears similar to a Trump-era policy requiring federal agencies to propose spending reductions at the same time as any proposed increase in spending that an administrative action would result in.

The deal would not block Biden’s plan to forgive a portion of federal student loan debt. But according to a GOP fact sheet, it would require student borrowers to start repaying their loans again by shutting off the pandemic-era pause begun during the Trump administration and extended by Biden. The changes would take effect 60 days after enactment, or about a month earlier than the expected Sept. 1 start date the administration had been readying.

The accord also includes proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that the GOP called the most significant since 1982, enabling energy and infrastructure projects to get off the ground sooner.

The White House said the changes would improve coordination among federal agencies in greenlighting projects, while preserving the public’s right to injunctions and other “judicial remedies.”

McCarthy told Republicans that the project permitting language was still being finalized, however.

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