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Bipartisan debt limit package unveiled as clock ticks toward ‘x date’

House vote teed up for Wednesday night; Senate may need to work next weekend to beat June 5 deadline

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, center, Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar and Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark conduct a news conference on the debt ceiling in the Capitol on May 23, 2023.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, center, Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar and Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark conduct a news conference on the debt ceiling in the Capitol on May 23, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House GOP leaders released the legislative text of their deal with the White House to suspend the debt ceiling until 2025 and set a framework for passing the annual appropriations bills, starting a 72-hour clock before a House vote Wednesday.

Republicans plan to call votes on a series of suspension bills Tuesday to get lawmakers back to Washington after the long Memorial Day weekend. The Rules Committee will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday to set the parameters of debate, and the chamber is expected to vote Wednesday night after the stock market close.

The details of the 99-page bill, released Sunday, largely track with fact sheets and talking points released by both sides the night before. It would set caps on discretionary spending levels, claw back some pandemic aid and tax enforcement funding, toughen work requirements for safety-net programs, streamline energy project permitting and more. But the text also clarifies a few things that weren’t obvious earlier.

[Bipartisan deal reached to raise debt limit, cap appropriations]

Nondefense appropriations

One of the key questions has been how much funding would be allotted for nondefense programs outside of veterans medical care, as Republicans touted a cut below fiscal 2022 levels while Democrats said those accounts would be close to what was appropriated for the current fiscal year.

The total amount of “capped” nondefense spending in fiscal 2024 would be cut by around $40 billion below this year to nearly $704 billion, a 5 percent reduction.

But VA health care would be shielded from any cuts. While not specified in the text, the agreement assumes a $121 billion discretionary level. With a special mandatory add-on stemming from last year’s law creating a new toxic exposure benefit program, the bill would allow for a roughly $19 billion overall VA health care increase, or 16 percent.

All told, nondefense funding outside of veterans medical care would be cut by about $42 billion or 7 percent below this year, to $583 billion. But in reality, appropriators are allowed several additions outside of the caps that help make up the difference and keep funding roughly flat from this year.

The bill provides offsets for higher fiscal 2024 and 2025 spending by clawing back some $28 billion in unspent pandemic relief, plus $1.4 billion in mandatory IRS funds appropriated for this year in the 2022 budget reconciliation law. Then there’s an informal understanding that another $10 billion of the mandatory IRS funding would be repurposed in each of fiscal 2024 and 2025.

Overall, the White House estimates nondefense, non-veterans spending would total $637 billion in fiscal 2024 after “agreed-upon adjustments.” That’s just $1 billion lower than the comparable figure this current fiscal year, officials said.

To reach their $637 billion figure — a $54 billion jump from the base funding level of $583 billion — White House officials appear to be relying on repurposing unspent pandemic aid and IRS tax enforcement money, among other “adjustments.”

It wasn’t immediately clear where all of the money would come from. But Biden’s February budget proposed doubling the $15 billion Congress usually credits to appropriations from certain “changes in mandatory programs” — mainly pulling from unspent Children’s Health Insurance Program balances. Another option is “emergency” designations for programs that might otherwise receive appropriations subject to caps.

Additionally, the bill would appropriate a separate $11 billion in each of fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for the Commerce Department’s “nonrecurring expenses fund,” created in the fiscal 2020 spending law. The money would be used to “carry out programs related to Government efficiencies,” the bill says.

Caps for two years, or six?

The bill would divide discretionary spending into separate caps for defense and nondefense programs in fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025, and then one combined cap for the subsequent four-year period. Each year after fiscal 2024, capped spending would be allowed to grow by 1 percent.

There is only a “sequester” mechanism for the first two years of the agreement, however. If final spending bills breach the separate defense and nondefense caps, then accounts in those categories would be sliced across-the-board back down to the levels specified in the bill. In future years, the sequester wouldn’t apply.

The unenforceable nature of those future caps may help assuage the concerns of GOP defense hawks like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who feared the bill may lock in lower military spending. As it stands, the measure would allow for 3 percent defense growth in fiscal 2024, to $886 billion, and then another 1 percent in fiscal 2025, to $895 billion.

Another provision would automatically trim spending by 1 percent below current-year levels as part of stopgap funding needed to avert a partial government shutdown if appropriations bills don’t become law by Jan. 1. The provision applies only to fiscal 2024 and 2025 spending measures.


Both parties’ leaders earlier in the day were trying to batten down the hatches after the tentative agreement announced Saturday night left many questioning the actual details.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen says lawmakers need to act by June 5 or the country could miss payments on its financial obligations, causing potential U.S. credit downgrades or worse.

“The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis: a default for the first time in our nation’s history,” Biden said Sunday night at a brief press conference at the White House.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier in the day called the bill “transformational” in terms of the spending cuts and controls it would impose. The California Republican said the bill the House passed in April framed the terms of the bipartisan agreement. 

“It doesn’t get everything everybody wanted,” McCarthy said at a press conference at the Capitol. “But that’s, in divided government, that’s where we end up.”

McCarthy said he will deliver votes from the majority of his conference when the bill comes to the floor.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he expects a number of Democrats will support the deal. But he made clear the onus is on Republicans to deliver most of the votes in the House.

“It’s my understanding that they are committed to producing at least 150 votes, if not more,” he said. “They were the ones who negotiated this agreement with the White House, and I expect that they will provide a significant number of votes to get it over the finish line.”

Still, Jeffries made clear there were reasons for his party to support the measure. “President Biden has delivered a result that avoids a catastrophic default, that prevents us from our economy crashing and stops the extreme MAGA Republicans from triggering a job-killing recession,” he said.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has 102 members, but the group’s chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, didn’t reject the broad outlines of the package during her own Sunday show appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Jayapal said she’s “not happy with some of the things I’m hearing about,” but that she was waiting to see the text before casting judgment. She also said Republicans “didn’t get what they said they wanted” in the negotiations, and that some of the exemptions from work requirements may allay concerns.

Another issue for progressives may be language that streamlines the National Environmental Policy Act process for approval of energy and infrastructure projects.

Democrats didn’t get a provision they were seeking that would require states, localities and utilities to coordinate on construction of an interregional transmission system to help transfer power to areas in need.

And the measure would greenlight the Mountain Valley Pipeline to transfer natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia, a win for West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, and Republican Shelley Moore Capito. The project has faced criticism from environmental groups and is years behind schedule, in part due to permitting delays and court challenges.

Rules hurdle

The first hurdle is to get through the House Rules Committee, where Republicans have a 9-4 edge but three of the GOP panel members are staunch conservatives on budget issues: Chip Roy of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

Roy and Norman each came out blasting on Twitter against the agreement pretty quickly: Norman called the deal “insanity” and Roy referred to it as a “turd-sandwich.” In response to a commenter on Roy’s twitter page who urged him to stop the bill from passing, Roy replied: “We’re going to try.”

If no Democrats support the rule, which wasn’t a certainty, and Roy and Norman end up voting “no” in committee then it could fall to Massie to save the package.

Massie won inclusion of his proposal to impose an across-the-board cut on stopgap funding in the event Congress hasn’t enacted the appropriations bills, however. Massie has also said in the past that he’s ready to vote for rules even if he’s opposed to the underlying bill.

And Massie hinted he wasn’t an automatic ‘no’ on the debt limit bill before it was released: “Bill text is king, and bill text hasn’t been released yet,” he tweeted earlier Sunday.

Assuming the measure passes the House on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer told colleagues in a letter on Sunday that he’d immediately start the process of calling it up for a Senate vote. “Due to the time it may take to process the legislation in the Senate without cooperation, Senators should prepare for potential Friday and weekend votes,” Schumer wrote.

Senate Democrats held a caucus meeting Sunday night to discuss the package. A source familiar with the meeting said it was “positive” and that the caucus “understand the need to avoid default”.

Senate GOP conservatives including Utah’s Mike Lee and Kentucky’s Rand Paul appeared likely to try to slow down the process. But the threat of weekend votes may be calculated to try to expedite a deal where holdouts receive amendment votes in exchange for speeding up debate.

Aidan Quigley and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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