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GOP rams debt ceiling patch through House amid partisan squall

Congressional Republicans squeaked past with a stopgap bill that will raise the debt ceiling and slash government spending, a move that Democrats have derided as debt brinkmanship.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A day of vote-whipping paid off for House Republicans Wednesday evening — and elicited sharp criticism from Democrats — as the lower chamber approved a measure that ties the federal debt limit to a laundry list of spending cuts.

The Republican-led House passed its debt ceiling patch, which would raise federal spending limits by $1.5 trillion until March 31 of next year, on a 217-215 party-line vote that skimmed the edge of the GOP’s razor-thin majority.

The bill is Republicans’ answer to the Biden administration’s demand that Congress pass a “clean” debt ceiling increase without any additional conditions, aimed at bringing the White House to a bargaining table from which it has so far steered clear.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy doubled down on those aims during a press conference Wednesday, urging President Biden to get on board.

“If you want to raise the debt ceiling, sign this bill,” McCarthy told reporters.

Instead of a clean increase, the GOP has said that its measure would cut federal spending to 2022 levels, and then limit growth to just 1% annually over the next decade. Among a litany of spending cuts, the bill would reinstate work requirements for welfare programs and do away with certain tax incentives for renewable energy generation.

Republican leadership worked to quell intraparty squabbling over the last day or so, altering the conditions of an ethanol tax credit in the bill late Tuesday night to appease lawmakers from Midwestern states, such as Iowa’s congressional delegation, which have signaled that they would now back the measure.

After GOP opposition to the debt ceiling patch melted away during the day Wednesday, Speaker McCarthy managed to scrape together the votes he needed to pass the bill. The California Republican’s success can only get him so far, however: The measure will likely face a grim end in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Opponents of the measure have accused Republicans of playing with fire by refusing to acquiesce to the White House — failing to raise the debt ceiling, the country’s self-imposed limit on government spending, could cause the U.S. to default on its debt and incur serious economic consequences.

Holding up a copy of the Constitution on the House floor, Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky said it was Congress’ responsibility to pay down the country’s debts. “Somehow [the Constitution] doesn’t say a darn thing about how you can negotiate to hold the whole economy hostage,” she remarked.

Schakowsky and other congressional Democrats argued that it was hypocritical for Republicans to demand concessions from the Biden administration in exchange for a debt ceiling increase, contending that the GOP had on several occasions agreed to increase federal spending limits under former President Trump.

There is no way Congress would agree to the level of spending cuts proposed by congressional Republicans, House Budget Committee Ranking Member Brendan Boyle said during floor remarks. “And for what? In exchange for a few months of respite before we would have to go through this debt ceiling rollercoaster all over again?”

House Republicans fired back, arguing that the proposed spending cuts and increased work requirements promote fiscal responsibility.

“I can’t believe that the Democrat Party has strayed so far left that ensuring able-bodied people who are receiving public assistance work is an extreme idea, and that it’s radical for people to rein in spending to just last year’s levels,” said bill sponsor Jodey Arrington. The Texas Republican accused Democrats of fearmongering and misrepresenting the GOP plan.

“We’ve got to pay our debts,” Arrington said. “We’ve got to protect the good faith and credit of the United States, but we cannot give unlimited line of credit to any party or any politician.”

North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, chair of the House’s education and workforce committee, turned accusations of brinkmanship back around on President Biden.

“The president has signaled that he will stall and risk and forbid paying our debt obligations if he doesn’t get his way,” Foxx said. “He refuses to compromise.”

Meanwhile, the White House said Tuesday that President Biden would veto Republicans’ measure if it somehow found its way to his desk and added its voice to accusations that the GOP was holding the U.S. economy hostage in order to extract concessions from the administration.

“Altogether, this legislation would not only risk default, recession, widespread job loss, and years of higher interest rates, but also make devastating cuts to programs that hard-working Americans and the middle-class count on,” the White House said in a statement. “The bill stands in stark contrast to the President’s vision for the economy.”

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