House Speaker Kevin McCarthy expressed optimism Saturday about sealing a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling before the nation reaches its borrowing limit June 5.
“I feel closer to an agreement now than I did a long time before,” he told reporters as he arrived at the US Capitol Saturday morning, after a marathon negotiation session that ended at 2:30 am, hinting that the final language could be completed within hours.
Minutes later, after meeting briefly with his GOP negotiating team, he struck a gloomier note.
“I don’t know about today,” he warned, as he left the building and headed to a nearby Chipotle for lunch.
“We did make progress,” the speaker said. “We worked well until early this morning and we’re back at it now. Some things we just have to finish out. We’ve got to make sure we get a right agreement for the American people.”
Timing is everything as Republicans and the White House battle over spending ahead of what the Biden administration says could be a ruinous federal debt default.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday afternoon the government won’t run out of money until June 5, four days later than was previously expected, relieving some of the pressure as President Biden headed off to Camp David for the holiday weekend.
But any deal still must work its way through both the House and Senate, where members of both parties have expressed opposition some major points, including a work requirement for food stamps and an overhaul of energy permitting regulations.
And under the House’s rules, McCarthy must give members 72 hours to review a bill’s final language before calling a vote on it – a three-day delay that now could leave the nation on the fiscal brink.
“So everybody will have an opportunity — Democrats, Republicans, the American public” to review it, he explained.
That means Tuesday could be the earliest possible House vote, if the bill is finalized Saturday — with votes in the Senate to follow days later.
The 72-hour rule was one of the concessions that a cadre of conservative holdouts wrenched from McCarthy in January as they forced him through repeated votes before allowing him to claim the speaker’s gavel.
“The members have demanded and have the right to review the legislation for 72 hours,” an exhausted-looking Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), one of the GOP’s three main negotiators, told reporters. “That means you have to have something that stands up. You can’t play tricks, there’s no hiding the ball.”
Budget legislation passed by the House in April cuts non-defense discretionary spending by $130 billion — back to fiscal year 2022 levels — and limits the annual growth of the federal budget to 1%, while clawing back around $100 billion in unspent COVID relief funds.
McCarthy said he thought he won’t have “any problem” getting his fractious Republican caucus, including its budget hawks who want to see extensive spending cuts, on board with the final bill.
But some conservatives argue that hitting the brakes on the nation’s borrowing won’t be the fiscal disaster that Democrat predict — saying the Constitution requires debt payments to be made from the ongoing federal cash flow.