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White House and McCarthy move to lock down votes after striking deal to avoid default

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is joined by his top negotiators on the debt limit, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., left, and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as he talks to reporters at the Capitol on Sunday.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is joined by his top negotiators on the debt limit, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., left, and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as he talks to reporters at the Capitol on Sunday.

Updated May 28, 2023 at 7:14 PM ET

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an agreement in principle to avoid a potentially disastrous government default and raise the nation's debt ceiling. But as details – and criticism – of the deal began to trickle out on Sunday, both sides moved to rally support for a plan that negotiators concede will not please everyone.

Speaking to reporters Sunday at the White House, Biden called the agreement "good news."

"The agreement also represents a compromise, which means no one got everything they want," Biden said. "But that's the responsibility of governing."

The deal follows weeks of negotiations and a tense creep toward a deadline to raise the government's borrowing limit. The final package is expected to have opponents on the extremes of both parties, but the announcement Saturday indicates that Republican and Democratic leaders believe they will gain enough bipartisan support to pass the legislation. That confidence will be tested over the next few days as the measure makes its way through the House, where Republicans hold a slim majority.

The proposal holds nondefense spending for fiscal year 2024 at roughly current levels and raises it 1% in 2025, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The agreement separately raises the debt limit for two years.

The text of the bill was expected to be available Sunday afternoon, and McCarthy plans to put the measure to a vote in the House chamber as early as next Wednesday.

"After weeks of negotiations, we have come to an agreement in principle," McCarthy said, speaking in the U.S. Capitol. "We still have a lot of work to do but I believe this is an agreement in principle that's worthy of the American people."

According to a source familiar with the talks, the deal protects tens of billions of dollars for clean energy, rebates and clean-up efforts for harmful pollutants from oil and gas.

White House settles for partial work requirement increase

Despite repeatedly indicating that increasing the number of people subject to work requirements for federal assistance programs was a red line in negotiations, Biden conceded to temporary increases in work reporting mandates for some elderly food stamp participants.

While the deal does not make changes to work requirements for Medicaid recipients as Republicans initially proposed, it does include a compromise focused on increasing the number of food stamp recipients who are subject to work requirements.

The bill would raise the minimum age of food stamp recipients who would be subject to work requirements from 50 to 54. However, there are special protections for veterans and people who are homeless. All of those changes expire in 2030, though, unless they're renewed by Congress.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN's State of the Union that expanding work requirements for food stamp benefits is an "absolutely terrible policy," adding that she needs to see the legislative text before deciding whether she can support the proposal.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, currently limits able-bodied adults without dependents ages 18-50 to three months of SNAP benefits during any 36-month period when they cannot show they are employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week.

Biden urges the House and Senate to quickly pass the agreement

Biden insisted he did not negotiate with McCarthy on the debt ceiling, noting that the talks were restricted to "the cuts" in spending, telling reporters on Sunday, "I made a compromise on the budget."

"That's what we are negotiating in order to get to them deciding that they're going to go along with a new debt ceiling," Biden said while urging Congress to pass the agreement.

Biden previously insisted he wanted Congress to authorize a debt ceiling increase without any conditions. But last month House Republicans approved a billthat would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts. GOP negotiators used that proposal as a framework for talks with the White House.

On Saturday evening, Republican leaders held a call with GOP members to unveil the details of the deal. McCarthy praised the agreement for having "historic reductions in spending," while also ensuring there would be "no new taxes, no new government programs." He added that the deal included "consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty and into the workforce."

Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus blasted the deal on Sunday. "Hold the line," Rep. Chip Roy of Texas tweeted. "No swamp deals."

But Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican and chair of the conservative Main Street Caucus, told CNN's State of the Union that he thought the Republican opposition to the agreement would only come from a small minority of members.

"When you're saying that conservatives have concerns, it is really the most colorful conservatives," Johnson said. "Those votes were never really in play. We get that. But overwhelmingly Republicans in this conference are going to support the deal."

Racing against deadline, both chambers plan for votes

The timeline to avoid a default remains tight. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen updated her guidance on the so-called "X date" — when the U.S. would run out of money to pay its bills — to June 5. Previously she had said it would be as early as June 1.

McCarthy has vowed that House members would get 72 hours to review any legislation before a vote. If the bill passes the House, it would then head to the Senate for a vote on final passage and on to the president to sign.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Senate Democrats on Sunday advising them to be prepared for votes next Friday or over the weekend. The breakthrough on reaching an agreement came about an hour after McCarthy and Biden spoke on the phone Saturday. Key negotiators for both sides worked through the night to write the bill. On Sunday, McCarthy and Biden spoke again to review the final legislative text.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]