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Debt ceiling bill passes in the House, advances to the Senate days ahead of default deadline

Marcel Obioha 167 June 1, 2023
U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) leaves his office in the U.S. Capitol Building on May 30, 2023 in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON — A bill to raise the debt limit and cap government spending passed in the House by a wide margin late Wednesday, sending the bill to the Senate just days before Monday's U.S. default deadline. 

The Fiscal Responsibility Act passed 314-117, with support from both Democrats and Republicans.

It was a dramatic conclusion to weeks of tense negotiations between the White House and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.  

That drama now moves to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where leaders on both sides want to pass it in 48 hours. Late Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., stood up in a nearly empty Senate chamber to formally place the bill on the calendar for Thursday.

"There's been a very good vote in the House. I hope we can move the bill quickly here in the Senate and bring it to the president's desk as soon as possible," Schumer said.

The reaction from the White House was measured. "Neither side got everything it wanted. That's the responsibility of governing," President Joe Biden said in a statement immediately after the vote. Biden thanked McCarthy for "negotiating in good faith," and he urged the Senate to pass the bill quickly.

For McCarthy, the vote was a personal victory worth celebrating. "I have been thinking about this day, before my [election as] speaker, because I knew the debt ceiling was coming. I wanted to make history," he said at a press conference Wednesday night

"It wasn't an easy fight. I had people on both sides upset" McCarthy said. "But I think we did pretty dang good for the American people."

Yet amid the celebration, some Republicans were left fuming. "The disastrous debt ceiling deal just passed with more Democrat votes than Republican votes," said GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, an outspoken opponent of the bill. "Tells you everything you need to know," he said, calling the bill "shameful" in a tweet late Wednesday.

The fact that McCarthy's bill passed with 165 Democratic votes, yet only 149 from Republicans, came as a surprise to many. Earlier in the day, just 29 Republicans had voted against a measure to begin debate on the bill, a final procedural step that often serves as a litmus test for the final tally.

But not in this case. On Wednesday evening, 71 Republicans bucked McCarthy and voted against the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said federal funds could dry up in the coming days unless lawmakers raise the borrowing limit before next week.

Failure to do so would upset global financial markets, spark job losses in the U.S. and jeopardize vital government benefits for millions of Americans.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the result of a deal reached between McCarthy and Biden, which essentially handed conservatives several ideological policy victories in exchange for their votes to raise the debt ceiling beyond next year's presidential election and into 2025.

Most importantly, the bill averts a potentially catastrophic U.S. debt default that could occur next week if Congress fails to pass the bill by then.