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White House defends debt deal, leaves vote-counting to Hill

OMB chief: Deal is ‘where you’d expect a bipartisan compromise to land’

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, here at a March hearing, defended the debt and spending bill on Tuesday.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, here at a March hearing, defended the debt and spending bill on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House on Tuesday defended a measure to avert a federal debt default Tuesday but plans to stay out of efforts to secure the votes to pass it despite some Democratic criticism.

House GOP and Democratic leaders were talking to their members as they worked to round up the 218 votes needed to send the bill, which also would install spending caps and place work requirements on some assistance programs, to the Senate. A senior White House official who helped negotiate the deal says it is up to those leaders to secure the votes.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young also pushed back — though lightly — against criticism from President Joe Biden’s left flank that the measure gave away too much to House Republicans.

“This is what happens in divided government,” Young said during a White House briefing. She described administration negotiators’ strategy during the talks this way: “Protect the American people from the worst possible outcome” while also agreeing to caps to “allow Republicans to have some curbing of spending … and then we move on.”

“I think that’s a good middle ground,” she said when asked about progressive members’ gripes. “That’s just the reality.”

Young and Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden and senior aides are speaking with members to explain what is in the measure. “It’s about education, education, education,” Young said, adding that her time as a senior congressional staffer taught her, “You don’t call a member of Congress and tell them what to do.”

The 99-page bill would suspend the debt ceiling until early 2025, meaning lawmakers in both chambers and Biden would be able to seek reelection without having to deal with the always thorny matter in the next election cycle.

The bipartisan compromise also would pull back unspent pandemic aid funds and accelerate permitting reviews for energy projects, among other things.

Conservative Republicans have balked at the deal, saying it fails to install the kind of deep spending cuts that were in a package the House passed this year. Progressive Democrats have griped about the work requirements, some environmental provisions, the energy permitting and spending caps. And some defense hawks say the modest Pentagon spending hikes it would allow would be eaten up by inflation.

Still, Biden told reporters over the weekend he feels confident it can pass both chambers. He and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spent part of the Memorial Day weekend calling members in a rare bipartisan effort to line up the necessary votes in the House (218) and Senate (60).

The measure faces a key test Tuesday in the House Rules Committee, after which the House could vote on the package as soon as Wednesday. The Senate’s timeline will come into focus after the House votes.

The White House earlier Tuesday urged passage of the compromise ahead of the Rules Committee meeting to set the terms for floor action, warning of the consequences of default as soon as next week if the deal falls apart.

“A default could have catastrophic impacts on every single part of this country. It could lead to an economic recession, devastate retirement accounts, and cost our Nation millions of jobs,” according to a statement of administration policy.

The legislation “is an important step forward that protects key administration priorities and legislative accomplishments,” the statement added without naming any.

In addition to raising concerns about the deal, some progressive members want to do away with the debt ceiling altogether.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has not announced where members of her group stand on the legislation. She said Monday the Progressive Caucus remains concerned about still-unclear provisions that will affect the 12 annual appropriations bills and federal food assistance program work requirements.

“We do want to immediately sit down with the president … talk about what the next two years is going to be like,” she told reporters Tuesday. “I worry that this precedent will just lead Republicans to be even more aggressive in burning down the house and then blaming firefighters.”

Young contended the number of individuals who would be subjected to new limits on benefits would be offset by the number who would get exemptions in the bill.

Still, the left-leaning Working Families Party contended in a statement that Biden agreed to “ransom” from Republicans who “took the world economy hostage to win cuts to food safety, clean air, and water, and to make it harder for our nation’s most vulnerable to get by.”

Young did not directly address any progressive members’ or groups’ concerns, but she cast the deal as about what she — a veteran of such negotiations — expected when the talks began several weeks ago.

“I think this is where you’d expect a bipartisan compromise to land. That’s just the reality,” she said. “If you get into who won and who lost, you’ve lost already. … We’ve avoided what would have been catastrophic.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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