House Republicans pass US debt limit bill Biden is expected to veto

US President says debt limit extension is 'not negotiable'

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol in Washington. AP
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Speaker Kevin McCarthy squeaked his debt limit bill through the House of Representatives on Wednesday, winning a politically important victory that intensifies the stand-off with the White House over averting a catastrophic US default.

The vote, coming after days of arm twisting, puts pressure on President Joe Biden to open talks with Republicans over the debt limit as a payment default looms this summer.

However, Mr Biden signalled he remains unwilling to yield to Republican demands.

“I’m happy to meet with McCarthy, but not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended,” Mr Biden said. “That’s not negotiable.”

The bill, which passed 217 to 215, is the Republican opening offer and has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The US Treasury will soon release a new estimate of when the department thinks the government will be at risk of default without raising the federal borrowing limit.

Analysts expect that date to be roughly around late July but have warned that sluggish tax-return revenue could move up the deadline to early June.

Mr McCarthy secured the votes to pass the measure after making middle-of-the-night concessions to factions within his party. Midwestern Republicans forced the speaker to restore biofuels tax breaks, while conservatives accelerated work requirements in food-stamp and welfare programmes to 2024.

“It’s time for the President to stop hiding, stop trying to run the clock out,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said.

Democrats said the bill — which would cut domestic agency funding by 22 per cent if the Pentagon is spared — is so extreme that it cannot move talks forward.

What is the US debt ceiling?

What is the US debt ceiling?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said “Democrats cannot and will not allow the Republicans’ DOA [Default on America] Act to ever become law. It is DOA [dead on arrival], plain and simple.”

For Mr McCarthy, passing the bill allows him to quiet critics who have unfavourably compared him to former speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had a well-known ability to bend her caucus to her will.

Mr McCarthy only became speaker after 15 rounds of voting at the start of the year and instituted a new process of dialogue between conservatives and moderates.

The House Speaker needed to pass the bill to have any serious leverage over Mr Biden.

Josh Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s government affairs institute, said Mr McCarthy had “to demonstrate the House has its demands in order for the House to even be at the table”.

If Mr McCarthy strikes a compromise with Mr Biden or a looming default forces him to put a no-strings-attached bill up for a vote, he risks angering ultraconservatives.

A deal that falls short of their demands could set up a career-ending no-confidence vote on the floor.

Updated: April 26, 2023, 11:10 PM