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Biden, McCarthy signal confidence that debt-limit deal will pass Congress

Kevin McCarthy and Joe Biden on May 22. (Photo: Yuri Gripas / Abaca / Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy voiced confidence that their tentative debt-ceiling deal will pass Congress and reach the president’s desk for signature, averting a historic US default.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Sunday, before heading into a call with McCarthy to “make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted.”

Biden and McCarthy sealed their bargain during a 90-minute phone call late Saturday, clearing the way for a push to shepherd the deal through Congress over the objections of hard-liners in both parties before the US government runs out of borrowing capacity in about a week.

McCarthy said earlier Sunday that he expects a majority of Republicans to vote for the emerging bill, defending it is as a “transformational” move to rein in federal spending even though “maybe it doesn’t do everything for everyone”.

Biden said he doesn’t foresee any sticking points that could derail the agreement. Asked if he’s confident the deal will reach his desk, he said, “Yes.”

McCarthy urged lawmakers to reserve judgment until they see the legislative text of the bill, which should be released Sunday, giving the representatives the promised 72 hours to read it before voting as early as Wednesday. Negotiators from both parties plan to brief their members on the deal in separate calls later in the day.

McCarthy rejected as “crazy” a scenario in which the House fails to pass the measure, claiming 95% of his party’s lawmakers are “excited” by the deal. He acknowledged the agreement is likely to face some opposition from Republicans.

“We know anytime we sit and negotiate with two parties, that you got to work with both sides of the aisle. So it’s not 100% of what everybody wants, but when you look the country is going to be stronger,” McCarthy told reporters at the US Capitol on Sunday morning.

Asked if he was worried about a possible effort by hard-line conservative lawmakers to oust him from the speaker’s chair, McCarthy responded: “Not at all.”

But Representative Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and longtime ally of Biden, struck a more pragmatic tone in a telephone interview Sunday.

“The easy part, in my opinion, is getting agreement. The hard part comes, is getting to 218 votes in the House, and 51 votes in the Senate,” Clyburn said.  “You got some sniping coming from the extreme right-wing, some concern being expressed on your left flank.”

Arguing for the merits of the deal, McCarthy cited provisions taking back previously approved spending, calling them “the largest rescission in American history.” He also highlighted increased work requirements.

The deal cuts the Internal Revenue Service’s budget by $1.9 billion, the speaker said, less than the $80 billion cut in IRS funding that many GOP lawmakers had sought.

While the agreement would not affect the Biden administration’s student-loan forgiveness, which is being litigated in the courts, it would end the pandemic-era moratorium on repayments. “The pause is gone within 60 days of this being signed,” McCarthy told Fox News Sunday.

Representative Garret Graves, one of the Republican negotiators, said the deal would also streamline permitting for energy projects — although a complete overhaul of the 54-year-old National Environmental Policy Act would be dealt with separately.

The bill creates a $1.64-trillion discretionary cap for fiscal 2024, a cut on paper of $60-billion from the $1.7-trillion spending level currently, according to a White House fact sheet.

That factors in a 3% increase in defense from $858-billion to $886-billion and a 12% cut to domestic programmes from $722-billion to $637-billion. The White House said there are accounting moves that can, in the forthcoming appropriations bill, erase this cut.

There’s little margin for error or delay. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Friday that the debt-limit must be extended by June 5 to avoid a historic default.

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